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SPOTLIGHT
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Caring for vets

Published on -6/11/2014, 10:00 AM

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That it requires an audit to unveil the rampant cheating and lying taking place at Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country while heroes are dying is nothing short of a disgrace.

Equally shameful is the deceptive practice apparently employed at most VA facilities that had more than 57,000 veterans waiting more than 90 days for their initial visit -- while administrators were collecting bonuses based on bogus waiting lists.

"This audit is absolutely infuriating and underscores the depth of the scandal," Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement. "Our vets demand action and answers."

Hopefully the action that results will hold more promise than the answers revealed thus far, and those to follow.

Some actions already have taken place. Retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has resigned. There is a hiring freeze other than for critical positions. Gone is the bonus program that rewarded officials for meeting an impossible 14-day maximum wait time. In fact, that 14-day goal has been eliminated as well.

Congressional probes are under way, with criminal investigations likely to follow. Everybody is taking part in the feeding frenzy, as the crisis is tailor-made for an election year. Outrage after outrage is expressed in the halls of Congress as all members demand accountability.

And there should be accountability. More heads undoubtedly will roll, as the situation warrants.

But there is one bit of accountability we doubt elected leaders will take on, even though it is likewise warranted.

There is a serious disconnect with the capabilities of military medical units and the hospitals that receive wounded personnel. Modern warfare not only has improved the weaponry used but the evacuation techniques employed. The number of injured military has skyrocketed as life-saving techniques and prompt rescue missions help clear battlefields and points of skirmish in ways never imagined in prior wars. Armed combatants willing to lay down their lives more often are able to limp away with physical and psychological wounds that, quite frankly, would have killed them in the past.

Our obsession with war and warmongering continues to funnel hundreds of thousands of America's bravest men and women into conflict, with little change in the hospital system designed to care for wounded veterans. Yes, budgets have been increasing ever so slightly, but not enough to accommodate current needs. The VA hospital system has been in need of triage for decades, yet it has been on a waiting list of its own.

Past and present occupants of the White House and Congress have been well aware of the situation. Yet all our elected leaders have proven themselves capable of is sending more troops on more missions, and letting the casualties mount.

We wouldn't expect today's leaders to query their own role in the VA hospital scandal. It is real, but we would be surprised to hear a single utterance about the bigger picture. Such a conversation would require statesmen and women, not shallow partisan politicians focused on re-election.

Rather than surgery to cure the disease, we will watch mounds of band-aids applied to treat symptoms. Veterans and the public deserve better.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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