For months, a group I’m affiliated with, Concerned Veterans for America, along with groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, have been raising the alarm on the dire situation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA), where the number of benefits claims backlogged for military veterans is nearing 1 million. We hope that, by drawing attention to the serious shortfalls of this bloated bureaucracy, we can mobilize Americans to demand change at the failing VA.
After I’ve repeatedly written about the VA’s dysfunction over the last year in various forums, it’s been frustrating and disappointing to watch what seemed like a lack of response. Outside of a small handful of veteran-advocacy organizations, a few persistent members of Congress from both parties, and yeoman’s work from nonprofit investigative reporting organizations, it just didn’t seem like the issue was getting the attention it deserved. It certainly received little notice during the 2012 presidential campaign.
To quote former senator Bob Dole, a distinguished World War II veteran: “Where’s the outrage?”
But in recent weeks, the silence surrounding the VA’s travails has been broken, and I’m encouraged to see broader attention being paid to this issue by a wider spectrum of reform-minded critics.
An example is this piece published in the Daily Beast on Monday and entitled “As VA Backlog Grows, ‘Baffled’ Veteran Allies Begin to Turn on the President.” Here’s what one of the president’s supporters has to say:
“I supported President Obama in both elections, but what is happening right now at VA is inexcusable,” says Thomas Bandzul, a well-known advocate for veterans who is legislative counsel for Veterans and Military Families for Progress and past associate counsel for Veterans for Common Sense.
Bandzul, who in 2007 worked closely with then-Senator Obama on the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act, said he is “baffled” by why the problems at the agency just keep getting worse and why Obama isn’t doing more to fix it.
“I know Shinseki on a personal level,” he says. “I know Allison Hickey on a personal level. They’re two of the greatest people in the world. But it’s time the president takes full responsibility for this failure, and takes action. This is happening on his watch.”
Bandzul makes a strong, principled case that this is not about partisanship, it’s about demanding accountability for the failures at the VA. Even Comedy Central comedians have caught on, bringing a humorous, yet biting, take on a very serious subject:
It’s encouraging to finally see more people waking up to this problem and demanding that the president take action. Doing right by our veterans isn’t an issue for liberals or for conservatives, or Republicans or Democrats; it’s an issue for all Americans. It’s time for leadership at the VA that brings serious, systemic reform to a bloated and calcified bureaucracy that is crushing, not serving, our veterans.