By Jay Kirell
A lot has been said about the shocking report coming out of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, Arizona that apparently had a secret waiting list for treatment that was kept from the national Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thanks to whistleblowers at the Phoenix facility, it was revealed 40 patients – veterans – died while waiting for treatment while many others waiting over 200 days for care. According to the whistleblowers, Phoenix VA officials were planning on destroying the list, forever ensuring their dereliction of duty in serving and caring for this nation’s veterans remained undiscovered.
These rogue officials, including Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, Associate Director Lance Robinson and a third unidentified employee were put on administrative leave by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. The move did little to quell calls for Shinseki’s resignation, which have come fast and heavy from both the halls of congress as well as the more right-wing veterans groups such as the American Legion.
Somehow they are under the impression that a rogue VA hospital purposefully keeping the truth from not only their own physicians within the hospital, but Shinseki’s office in D.C. is something he should have seen coming. Or something. It’s really hard to see their actual reasoning for calling for the VA Secretary’s head, other than the base impulse to “do something” and “hold someone accountable.”
The impulse is understandable, since what the Phoenix VA is alleged to have done is so shockingly awful it doesn’t seem real, but Shinseki’s resignation would not prevent future tragedies like this from occurring. The problem underscored in this scandal is not just about one rogue office and the inability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to uncover their schemes sooner.
The problem goes much deeper than that. It winds its way through the entire VA healthcare system and manifests itself in the attitudes of veterans themselves.
The reason a scandal like this came about and was allowed to reach the levels and depth that it did has as much to do with the actions of those officials in the Phoenix office as it did the patients whose lack of care put them on the black lists.
Veterans are a prideful bunch. We like to think our free or low-cost healthcare is something we earned, not an entitlement. But even as we convince ourselves that the care we receive is different and somehow more worthy than what people on Medicaid or – gasp – Obamacare receive, in the back of our minds we feel grateful that we get anything at all. Because for most vets, getting something for nothing (even if it’s earned in service) doesn’t sit right with them.
Veterans are also a stubborn bunch. Sometimes we have to be dragged kicking and screaming to a VA facility because we’re too prideful to admit we can’t fix what’s wrong with us on our own. Once we get there, the last thing we want to do is complain, because we’re veterans, and we’re tough and we’ve been through worse and nobody likes a whiner.
Which is why it took a whistleblower on the inside of the Phoenix VA to reveal to the world what was going on there and not hundreds or thousands of complaints from veterans to their families, friends, the media or their elected representatives.
Because when you’ve been conditioned to believe that what you’re receiving was shameful…
Because when you’ve been conditioned the believe there’s no free rides…
Because when you’ve been conditioned to believe its wrong to complain about a “gift”…
….you’ll take the treatment you get, no matter how delayed, because it’s better than the alternative of nothing.
Because in America, affordable health care is such a prize its own veterans are willing to die waiting for it rather than complain about the wait.