By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Three presidential debates have just been completed, two Republican and one Democratic, and in each case very little was discussed about U.S. military veterans.
Among the many topics addressed, immigration was one which all three debates covered extensively; but again, nothing concerning the plight of U.S. Veterans.
I have nothing against discussing the topic of immigration, as everyone knows that the U.S. immigration system badly needs reform, considering the last comprehensive immigration reform measure passed in 1986, close to 30 years ago.
Why didn’t the network moderator’s of all three debates ask relevant questions about veterans, and why didn’t the candidates pivot any of their answers to veteran issues and the continued problems at the Department of Veterans of Affairs?
It’s not like issues regarding veterans just magically appeared. In April 2014, CNN reported that close to 40 veterans died while awaiting medical care at the Phoenix, Veterans Health Administration facilities.
An audit by Veterans Affairs released in June 2014, found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting, or never able to receive the care they needed by Veterans Affairs administrators who fraudulently kept unofficial lists, and engaged in inappropriate activities which made the wait times seem shorter then was the case.
In the wake of the scandal, Congress passed a $17 billion package in July 2014, aimed at curing the long wait times and mismanagement at the VA. You would think that this should have cured the problem, but you would be wrong! Just because you allocate resources, doesn’t make the problem go away.
The Washington Post reported in June, that one year after an explosive VA scandal sparked national outrage, the number of veterans on wait lists to be treated for everything from Hepatitis C to post-traumatic stress is 50 percent higher than at the same time last year, according to VA data.
Then in a damaging report by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general released last month, it was reported that more than 300,000 veterans died while waiting for health care treatment.
CNN reported that the VA’s inspector general found that out of about 800,000 records stalled in the agency’s system for managing health care enrollment, there were more than 307,000 records that belonged to veterans who had died months, or even years earlier. The inspector general said that due to limitations in the system’s data, the number of records did not necessarily represent veterans actively seeking enrollment in VA health care.
Continuing in its reporting, in a response to a request by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ to investigate a whistleblower’s allegations of mismanagement at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center, the inspector general also found that VA staffers had incorrectly marked unprocessed applications, and may have deleted 10,000 or more records in the last five years.
In last week’s Democratic debate, independent Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders highlighted his championing the Veterans Choice, Access and Accountability Act of 2014, which gave the VA an additional $17 billion to fix its structural problems. Unfortunately, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper never pressed Sanders or any of the other Democratic candidates as to why there still are structural problems at the VA?
Prior to this debate, the Republicans have held two debates of their own; the first one held in August in which issues regarding veterans were not even mentioned until literally the very end, when a woman came to the stage and asked Fox News moderator Megan Kelly ‘when are we going to hear questions about are nation’s veterans’?
Again, in all three debates very little of the candidates of both Republican and Democrats mentioned, discussed or were asked questions concerning our nation’s veterans? Why is this? Maybe because almost all of them have never worn the uniform of our nation’s armed forces.
When the question inevitably turns to the discussion of veterans, it’s always in the context of the war’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, with each of the candidates reiterating the claim that it was a mistake, even if they had previously voted for it. Those that did flip-flop and try to justify their rational for their vote, and those who were against it, always point how they were always against it.
For veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan feel that their service is being played out in the political spectrum of partisan warfare at their expense.
The Associated Press reported that Mike Barbero, a retired general who served three tours in Iraq, said that he isn’t sure of the value of the hypothetical questions being asked the candidates, and would rather they be pressed on their criteria for sending troops into a potential future battle. “What are your criteria for putting young Americans in harm’s way? What lessons learned did you take away from Iraq and Afghanistan? Then you’re getting into the mind of a future commander in chief,” he said.
Let’s hope the next debate has the candidates addressing veteran’s issues, as they certainly will be addressing them when they become president.