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Put veterans’ needs over bureaucracy

When you wake up in the morning, they are there. When you’re at work, in school or tending the garden in retirement, they are there.

They’re at your dinner table each night, by your side as you tuck in the little ones tight. They are with you every minute of every hour of every day. They’re the love that never came back, the father not there. The mother cried over, the sister not spared. An aunt, an uncle, a cousin not known. To your eyes, they can’t be seen, yet they’re as close as can be.

They are the men and women of our armed forces who paid the ultimate price for freedom’s call. From Lexington Green to Gettysburg; Belleau Wood to Guadalcanal; Inchon, Khe Sanh, Kabul, Fallujah and places yet unknown, they gave theirs that we have ours.

They are the reason this weekend exists. Not the mattress ads, the furniture blowouts or the “your trade has never been worth more” extravaganzas. And yet for all they did, for all this weekend means, their surviving brothers and sisters in arms are at this very moment still being forced to do battle with their own government for health care they so rightly earned and deserve.

Two years ago, the news broke of veterans dying while waiting for care at a Phoenix, Arizona, VA health center.

In the wake of that and other scandals, former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald was confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs with a rare 97-0 affirmative vote.

Speaking at the 69th National Convention of the Blinded Veterans Association in Sparks, Nevada, in August 2014, McDonald stated: “The truth of the matter is that we’ve failed in a number of ways. Right now, it’s up to the department to reaffirm its worth and regain veterans’ trust ... And that’s what we intend to do. From here on out, we want veterans to know that when they walk through VA’s doors, employees are all in ... Without that, there can be no trust.”

Since that dedication to trust, McDonald has been caught grossly overstating the number of VA employees fired or held accountable for their misconduct and was forced to admit that he “misspoke” (lying, in troop lingo) about being in the Special Forces.

Adding insult to injury, this past week, McDonald commented at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that “The days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring. What we should be measuring is the veterans’ satisfaction. When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?”

We have come to expect such callous disregard from career government bureaucrats, but Mc-Donald is a West Point graduate, for crying out loud. Has the Washington, D.C., culture of corruption become so contagious that even an alumnus of this nation’s oldest military academy is not immune to making excuses to protect the bureaucracy over the needs of veterans?

In light of McDonald’s comments, Disney responded that not only does it look at wait times, it takes “every facet of the guest experience very seriously.”

Imagine that. The House of Mickey Mouse has more respect for its customers than our own government does for the men and women who fought to protect it.

So whatever your plans this Memorial Day weekend, please make sure to take some time to remember those who went before us and to reflect upon the plight of those still with us. It truly is the least we can do.

GEOFF CALDWELL lives in Joplin. He can be reached at gc@caldwellscorner.com.

GEOFF CALDWELL

Columnist

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