Recently, Michelle Obama confided to Oprah Winfrey, “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” That was tragic to hear. Nonetheless, there is a group of Americans who will empathize with her. They have been living without hope for the past eight years. Who are they? American veterans who depend upon the Veterans Administration for their medical care.
What is the V.A.’s record over the last two presidential terms?
· Veterans dying while waiting weeks and months for critical treatment,
· Illegally modified paperwork to cover administrative malfeasance,
· Medical staff using unsanitary equipment during veteran treatment,
· Persecution of whistle-blowers who go public to expose veteran abuse,
· Refusal to punish incompetence–rewarding it, instead, with bonuses,
· Impotence and indifference in the face of a suicide epidemic,
· Fraud and abuse wasting billions of tax dollars,
· And most recently, leaving the corpse of a veteran to decompose in a shower
That’s a mere partial list. The atrocities go on.
Barack Obama is not to blame for all of this. The rot at the V.A. goes back some decades, which includes Republican administrations. The pressures placed upon its medical care–because of wars undertaken by Bush 1 and Bush 2–merely unveiled its corruption and incompetence to the public’s view. So this criticism isn’t partisan. There is enough blame to share. Unfortunately, Obama has held executive power—his famous phone and pen—for the past two terms. During this time, he has been directly responsible for the Veterans Administration. He cannot hold George Bush accountable for V.A. failures during his watch. Obama is responsible.
President Obama has praised veterans and their families; even laying wreaths at the graves of our Military Unknowns. How sensitive! But his actual behavior tells quite another story. In the face of one scandal after another, the President has merely promised reform, apparently believing that words would make real problems disappear or cause the public to forget. That hasn’t worked. Problems at the V.A. have only intensified. News stories feed the public’s perception of scandal, while presidential leadership has only gotten weaker.
Apparently, Obama saw no real urgency. His V.A. appointments have proved useless. So as critically ill veterans have needlessly died because of bureaucratic incompetence, and even corruption, the President has nodded, smiled, and done nothing. Caring for ill veterans has not been one of his priorities. Golf and fundraising take precedence. For a President who put his national health care program at the top of his political agenda, his failure to ensure competent and respectful medical care for veterans seems puzzling.
So veterans can empathize with the First Lady. She joins the ranks of others who, for the past eight years, have felt no hope. They have felt abandoned. But fortunately, Michelle Obama remains alive. In contrast, literally thousands of veterans have died waiting for a medical appointment–a fact that corrupt V.A. administrators have unsuccessfully attempted to suppress.
It is sad to hear, nonetheless, that the First Lady feels no hope. Doubtless, that’s a very unpleasant emotion. But it is one also shared by many veterans waiting endlessly for critical medical care–no matter their ethnicity, race, or gender ID. Perhaps Michelle will draw personal strength by realizing that she is not alone.
The new tenant of the White House has promised drastic V.A. reform. Many veterans express the hope that these promises will prove to be more than empty words. The next few months will tell. The Trump Administration deserves a chance to deliver on its promises. If nothing changes at the V.A., however, then the new Republican President merits the same criticism as his predecessor and deserves to lose veteran support. That would present a significant opportunity for Democrats to challenge Republican seats in both the House and Senate during the 2018 elections. On the other hand, if the Trump Administration delivers, that will give citizens who have been horrified by the V.A.’s record a reason to again feel proud of America—a feeling, one might hope, that Michelle Obama and other Democrats would share.
This article originally appeared on the author’s LinkedIn page here.