To help veterans, Congress should stop making so many of them

By Robert Mann

The news about the Veterans Administration is “reprehensible,” to quote VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. As a recent VA inspector general’s report confirmed, the Phoenix VA hospital treated wounded veterans, desperate for medical care, as if they were nuisances, not damaged heroes who deserve the support the nation promised them when we shipped off their once-healthy bodies to war.

The report suggests that Phoenix is the tip of a very corrupt iceberg throughout the country, possibly part of a nationwide practice by VA officials to conceal just how long they forced to veterans wait for treatment. In all, the report suggests a shocking indifference to their right to quality health care.

It’s not surprising, then, that some members of Congress are demanding that President Obama fire Shinseki, the retired Army general who seems powerless to repair this mess. There’s also the predictable urge to politicize the scandal, as evidenced by robo calls from the Republican National Committee to Louisiana voters, pushing Sen. Mary Landrieu to demand an independent investigation. The objective, of course, is to tie Landrieu to the scandal by suggesting she opposes fixing the problem.

At some point, let’s hope, this sorry episode will force Congress and the American people to truly respect our veterans, of whom we ask so much and repay with so little. Even if we do clean up the system so that the VA begins to properly treat veterans’ blasted bodies, it’s not likely we’ll ever seriously address the damage that war does to so many of their minds.

Many vets return in one piece but bear deep emotional scars. A poll conducted last year by The Washington Post found disturbing reports of unmet mental health issues among a significant percentage of veterans from recent wars. According to the VA, the suicide rate among veterans is up 20 percent since 2007.

The lingering physical and emotional wreckage of war in the shattered lives of too many veterans is a national disgrace. From time immemorial, our country has lied to our soldiers about their importance to our “way of life.” As comedian Jon Stewart recently observed on “The Daily Show,” at the end of a classic segment on the VA scandal, “America has had for over 200 years a great bipartisan tradition of honoring those who have fought for our freedom by (screwing) them over once they give their guns back.”

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