Veterans Day is a chance to honor roughly 300,000 Nevada men and women who put their lives on the line for your freedom. It’s also a chance to reflect on the challenges they face here at home. Chief among them is the ongoing crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which in many respects has only worsened since it made national headlines last year.
Unfortunately, the leading Democratic presidential candidate — Hillary Clinton — refuses to even admit such a crisis exists. Last month, she claimed the VA’s problems haven’t been “as widespread as they’ve been made out to be.” She even tried to speak for the veteran community, claiming most of us are satisfied with the VA.
As a veteran myself, I wonder whether Mrs. Clinton has picked up a newspaper, turned on the television or even so much as spoken to a veteran in the past year. If she had, she would know the crisis at the VA is still ongoing in Nevada and across the country.
As Clinton travels across America, she should examine how long veterans wait for health care at their local VA. When she comes to Las Vegas, she’ll see that waits for over 3,000 doctor’s appointments within the local VA system still drag out longer than 30 days — a wait the VA calls unacceptable.
Even the VA admits problems are widespread. According to agency officials, excessive waits are up 50 percent across the country since last year’s scandal. If that’s not widespread, I don’t know what is.
Keep in mind, these wait times cause veterans pain, suffering and even death. Last year’s scandal left at least 40 veterans dead while being stuck on secret waitlists designed to hide excessive wait times. The VA’s internal investigation later revealed these waitlists existed nationwide.
That puts Clinton’s claim in context. If anything, the VA’s problems are more widespread than they’ve been made out to be.
Her claim that most veterans are happy with the VA is equally out of touch. A recent Gallup poll showed only 28 percent of Americans approve of the government’s handling of veterans’ issues — down 10 percent from last year when the scandal erupted. And in the wake of that scandal, 50 percent of veterans said they found it difficult to get care, while 60 percent had lost confidence in the VA.
More important than these statistics are the stories behind them. Hardly a day goes by without a local headline or newscast telling the story of veterans who waited weeks, months or even years before receiving care from the VA — if they received care at all.
When she’s not denying these problems exist, Hillary Clinton blames them on her political rivals. She accuses Republicans of playing budget games with the VA, but its budget has ballooned over the past two administrations — one Republican, one Democrat — and a Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation last year granting the VA emergency funding.
The truth is the VA’s problems are of its own making, and they’ve existed for years. The VA’s inspector general recently revealed more than 307,000 veterans in the agency’s database may have passed away while waiting to enroll in the system. Countless veterans’ lives are on the line.
These problems aren’t isolated or overblown. Veterans in Nevada and across America know better — we’re the ones dealing with the VA in our daily lives. This Veterans Day, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: How can we trust Hillary Clinton to fight for us when she won’t even acknowledge the problems we face?
— Thomas McInerney, a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force, previously served as assistant vice chief of staff for the U.S. Air Force and as director of Vice President Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” program.