I’m not sorry I did not join in your celebrations and activities on Memorial Day. I’m sure the day off from work was nice, along with the three-day sales and barbecues. And the weather looked perfect so I’m sure it was a great day to hang out by the lake with your family or friends. But that’s not what Memorial Day is about, and at this point it’s pretty clear that this nation really doesn’t give a damn about its veterans.
Oh sure, there were parades and flag-waving, and patriotic gestures and symbolism. A few veterans got a pat on the back as they remembered their fallen comrades, as others tried to think of what it is like to walk a mile in our boots and grieve our fallen comrades year after year. But at this point, it’s pretty obvious that society really doesn’t give a damn about our fallen veterans, or veterans as a whole, and Memorial Day was all for show. If society did hold veterans in high regard they would not relegate us to a third-rate healthcare system. No society that genuinely cares about veterans would elevate them with names like “the greatest generation” only to turn around and send them to a crappy health care system to die.
The problems recently uncovered at the VA were a surprise to everyone. Everyone, that is, except veterans. These problems did not start under Obama, Bush or Clinton. The failures of the VA are ingrained in the system. Although my WWII veteran godfather passed away roughly a decade ago, I can still remember the stories of struggle he had with the VA simply getting appointments and the proper care. He would spend hours in a cramped van with other vets only to get to the VA facility and find out something was amiss and he wouldn’t get the care he needed.
The stories of my godfather are no different than mine. After I was discharged from Walter Reed I bounced around the VA system for a year and a half before I was finally assigned a patient advocate who could actually schedule my appointments. I called every month to find out when my appointment was scheduled to finalize my disability rating. The VA told me they would mail me a letter when the appointment was scheduled. A couple months later I received a phone call from the VA asking why I didn’t show up for the disability rating appointment that they never told me about. After a year of asking to have my patched and duct-taped prosthetic arm fixed, I finally gave up and contacted a congressman. I was wearing a new prosthetic arm in a week, and my other one was completely repaired. The VA prosthetics department blamed me for not knowing their system. These were the same individuals who did not know how to take apart my prosthetic arm. I had to show them in order to get it fixed. I once went to the VA emergency room in Minneapolis with the advanced symptoms of Lyme’s disease. After sitting in the waiting room for six hours with only four other people, I was told by a nurse to “be nice” to the doctor because he had to come in on his day off.
Sorry, but a society doesn’t give a damn about veterans. If they did that they would not relegate those of us who put our lives on the line for our country to such shoddy healthcare. Our healthcare is not an entitlement, it’s part of our contract, something we earned when we signed on the dotted line. Our government says that it you serve our nation and get injured, they will provide the necessary care. But our government doesn’t do that, and society doesn’t care.
Sorry, but society doesn’t give a damn about veterans. Oh sure, there are those who act patriotic, who wear a red shirt on Friday, who might chip in a few dollars to their favorite veterans organization. But few if any will ask why billions of dollars are donated every year to help veterans with problems that are supposed to be fixed by the VA. Society as a whole doesn’t give a damn about veterans. If they did, they would not tolerate a third rate health care system where we’re put on secret waiting lists to die for no other reason than a manager to get their bonus. We would not have to endure shoddy healthcare conditions where contaminated equipment inflicts us with diseases like HIV and hepatitis. We would not have to endure a system that treats us as just another number, or perhaps a squeaky wheel to get greased when a politician gets involved.
Sorry, but politicians don’t give a damn about veterans either. They may look like it come election time because we’re viewed as either an asset or liability. Yet ask an elected representative to hold someone personally accountable for the problems at the VA, and they look as if you asked them to take a bullet for you, or hand over their first born. Veterans are used to being political footballs, as I saw as a patient at Walter Reed. If there’s an election coming up, the politicians from downtown would be making the rounds to get their photo-ops. The politicians all knew about the problems at the VA because they aren’t new. They existed under their predecessors, and under their predecessor’s predecessors. But they will still pound their fists, give angry speeches, propose a bill to give the broken system more money, and make it sound like they care and will get to the bottom of it. There might be the occasional symbolic firing amid yet another committee investigation that exists only to uncover problems that were already well-known amongst those who launched the committee. The tactic is not to solve the issues at the VA, it’s to kick it down the road until the next scandal or until the public forgets. The worst of those failing to hold people accountable for the problems at the VA are the partisan veterans amongst us who make excuses for those on their side of the isle. Sure, they may work for an organization that has the word veteran in it, but they are doing so only to further their own political agenda. They are the worst of the worst, modern-day Benedict Arnolds.
If we lived in a society where our nation cared about veterans, there would be constant protests outside the White House. People would be storming the hill, demanding to speak with their representatives. People would be demanding that the press hold them accountable for the promises they campaigned on when veterans needlessly die. But its not happening, because society really doesn’t give a damn about veterans.
A job was asked of me, so I went and did it, regardless of the cost. I was asked to go do the impossible and I lost my right arm in the process. But society doesn’t give a damn. But hey, I’m glad you got a day off of work so you could hang out with your family, cook some burgers on the grill, and maybe save a few bucks by hitting up a Memorial Day sale. At least my buddy didn’t die for nothing.