Judging by the headlines, the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs must be over. Few media outlets or politicians have discussed the topic since Congress passed its reform bill in early August.
But the problems haven’t been fixed. Louisiana’s veterans — myself included — know this all too well. Benefits and compensation claims at the New Orleans regional office — which oversees all of Louisiana — are still severely backlogged. As of Sept. 8, 42 percent of such claims are still backlogged. On average, the state’s veterans wait 265 days before hearing from the agency. For medical care, new patients seeking primary care or mental health care typically wait 30 days or more for an appointment.
We’ve seen this act before, and it looks shockingly similar to previous “reforms” at the VA. For years, investigators and auditors have warned about the agency’s toxic culture and systemic problems. The agency always responds by issuing a mea culpa and asking Congress for more money. This system — which repeats every few years — only papers over the chasms at the VA.
Unfortunately, the agency’s new secretary, Robert McDonald — appointed after Eric Shinseki resigned at the height of the crisis — appears to be following this same playbook.
In early September, McDonald laid out his three-step plan to fix the VA between now and Veterans Day. The plan — called “The Road to Veterans Day” — consists of three policies: rebuilding trust with veterans, improving veterans’ medical care and promoting a long-term culture of excellence at the agency.
The lack of specifics is telling. Veterans have heard similar platitudes repeatedly over the years, especially in the past six months. Yet, even after the latest reform bill, the VA’s culture remains essentially the same. Its broken culture that often places paperwork over patient well-being requires concrete change, not just more funding and vague promises that this time will be different.
It’s time for Louisiana’s veterans to say enough is enough. For too long, politicians have promised reform but failed to deliver results. They’ve pandered to us for our votes without giving us the care we need.
We need to keep making noise until the VA and its enablers hear this message. Concerned Veterans for America, a national advocacy group, is doing just that in Baton Rouge on Sept. 19. I’m joining them, as are hundreds of other Louisiana veterans, on board the USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial to refocus attention on Washington’s record of broken promises for veterans and our families.
We hope that everyone — veterans or not — will join us in demanding real reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Louisiana’s veterans didn’t fight so that the VA’s leadership and our politicians could talk the talk — we need them to walk the walk, too.
officer, U.S. Naval Reserves