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TheStreet Open House

Veterans Know Shinseki Departure Is No Cure for VA Mess

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs and its facilities are a mess, but the argument that any one political party or person made them that way is not only false, but a continued insult to the veterans seeking the care they were promised on enlistment.

As an independent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general's office proved Thursday, VA health clinics used inappropriate scheduling practices that hid delays in treatment that averaged 115 days. At the heavily scrutinized Phoenix VA alone, 1,700 veterans were kept on unofficial wait lists and "were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS's convoluted scheduling process." Far from being an isolated slip by one facility, the report notes that such manipulation and underreporting -- which led to performance bonuses for VA staff -- are "systemic throughout" the VA.

Calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down finally met with success on Friday when he announced his resignation. But not before Shinseki responded by writing an op-ed in USA Today in which he laid out a plan to fix flaws in VA. At one point, that may have earned him a reprieve from House Speaker John Boehner, but the American Legion and politicians from both sides of the aisle wanted Shinseki gone.

The Legion, however, doesn't speak for all veterans. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) have all voiced their desire to have Congress, President Obama and his cabinet stop the political posturing and start fixing VA. The department's 152 medical centers and 900 community care facility nationwide has been inundated with 1.5 million new patients in the last three years, 200,000 of them with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

As a result, the budget for Veterans Affairs has increased from $59.7 billion to more than $125 billion within the last decade. Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the president submitted a $163.9 billion budget for 2015. The VFW and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) were looking for Shinseki to take strong action to ensure that those funds actually help veterans and don't just get doled out as bonuses.

That request wasn't good enough for Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, who wrote an open letter to the VFW and other groups accusing them of being "more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle" than in helping other veterans.

Richard Burr

First off, with few exceptions, veterans really don't like it when they feel you're manipulating them for political advantage. Secondly, roughly 6,500 former military personnel killed themselves in 2012 -- the last year such statistics were made available -- which equates to one suicide every 80 minutes. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that roughly 13% of the overall U.S. homeless population are veterans, with 50% experiencing severe mental illness and 75% struggling with substance abuse. Younger vets from recent wars make up approximately 10% of that veteran homeless population and 31% of all veteran suicides.

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