Jordan Nickerson is sitting in the waiting room of a Maine Veterans hospital. The disabled veteran is waiting to see a doctor after months of waiting to get an appointment. The waiting room is quiet except for the TV playing in the corner, because the waiting room is not busy. Playing on that TV are the talking heads discussing how ISIS just took Tikrit.
Jordan says, “When I first exited the Army, I had a broken ankle. The Doctor looked at my chart, and says, ‘Yup broken, right here, broken.’ I was given an estimated 7 month wait time before I could have it looked at by an orthopedic specialist. I wound up getting it looked at outside of the VA.”
Several months later Jordan had another negative encounter with the VA. This is the conversation that took place. “The doctor asked me ‘Why are you here?’ I told him ‘Well just a checkup, I also have a hernia that I wanted to discuss.’ The doctor interrupts me, ‘Hold on, how do you know you have a hernia? It could be any number of things.’ I reply with, ‘I went to the ER, and they told me it was a hernia.’ To which he responds, ‘Oh, well I see, umm, the problem is your obesity. All of this is going on because you just weigh too much.’ Surprised I say, ‘Okay I also wanted to ask you about my ankle. I had it operated on but I still have a lot of pain and stiffness.’ To which he responds, ‘Well what do you expect? That’s not something that will get better. Anything else?’ He didn’t check my blood, never checked my hernia, and he did not look at my ankle. He didn’t even touch me, except for listening to my lungs and heart.”
Jordan also said, “The hernia developed in February of this year. I have been waiting on a consult for roughly 3 and a half months.”
The Veterans of our country have had to endure a number of heart wrenching issues lately. Veterans have had to watch all of the gains they achieved in Iraq melt away on live television. They sat in horror as they learned that their brothers in arms were being neglected by the agency tasked with rendering there health care. Then there’s the Bergdhal swap where our government negotiated the trade of five top Taliban commanders for a soldier that’s been accused of being a deserter by everyone who served with him.
What started out as a local scandal in the Arizona Veterans affairs Health System soon grew into a nationwide systematic failure of our veterans healthcare system. The problems with wait times had always been bubbling under the surface, but its effects have only just recently come to light.
According to a Freedom Of Information Act obtained by CNN, this goes back as far as 2010 if not further. So far CNN has confirmed the deaths of 10 veterans from the South Carolina and Georgia area, two veterans from the Florida area, and two from the state of Texas. 18 veterans total in Arizona alone died while waiting for treatment according to veteran health officials. There are countless others who committed suicide while waiting for mental care and that number is said to be in the thousands!
The basics of the scandal was this : The clinics that scheduled the appointments for patients carried two sets of appointment lists One was reported and the latter wasn’t. The VA has a certain set of standards that reflect negatively on leadership if the criteria isn’t met. The appointment times is one of the areas that affects senior leader’s bonuses.This strategy appears to have been implemented across the country. The manipulation of wait times to trigger bonuses shows there are clear systemic issues within the Veterans Administration at the senior level.
80% of VA execs received bonuses with $14.5 million being paid out since 2010. The former VA head in Phoenix was given a bonus of $9,345 in fiscal year 2013, and $8,495 last February which was later rescinded. The Phoenix chief was placed on leave months ago and is still receiving her full salary. She may also be awarded a hefty pension if dismissed permanently. In my personal opinion this conduct constitutes outright fraud of the highest order. Her actions resulted in the deaths of countless veterans. If she walks, it would be a grave miscarriage of justice.
Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA, stepped down as the Veterans Administrations scandal gained steam in Washington. The outrage was widespread on both sides of the aisle. The Veterans affairs budget of 154 billion has more than doubled since 2006.
The Bergdahl swap
Soon after, the administration announced the release of Bowe Bergdahl. Soldiers from his unit soon began to speak out against the narrative that this individual was a hero. “I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on”, said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bowe’s platoon.
The story on the ground from his platoon is that he was on guard duty and in the dead of night he walked off the OP ( Observation post) armed only with a knife, and a compass. The search that lasted months diverted resources, personnel, and cost the lives of six soldiers. The search also indirectly sapped resources which negatively affected the outcome of the battle of COP Keating. COP Keating was one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan conflict, costing eight soldiers their lives.
The exchange of five detainees for the US soldier was also met with its own skepticism. Under the agreement of the transfer, the government of Qatar will hold the terrorist for one year in a sort of “house arrest” where they are free to roam the country. I have little doubt that these high level Taliban generals will be back to directing attacks against Americans in the near future.
Bowe Bergdhal will receive back pay which some say could be in excess of $200,000 dollars, and will be integrated back into the military system. He is currently at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,Texas undergoing a debriefing and therapy. No charges have been filed.
You cannot force a society to embrace democracy. I guess that’s why it was no surprise to many when the same bad actors appeared back on the scene in Iraq.
ISIS (Islamic State In Iraq) rushed onto the scene picking off major cities in Iraq at an alarming pace. ISIS rebels cut their teeth in the Syrian conflict, linking with other rebel groups that were armed by France and Britain with our country’s blessing. Concerning the Syrian rebels last year, Secretary of state John Kerry said, “The united states does not stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms whether France or Britain.”
The rise of ISIS was the first major test of the US trained Iraqi army. At 250,000 strong, Iraq’s armed forces should have easily repelled the much smaller ISIS force. Instead, the Iraqi army in its first few battles dropped their weapons and abandoned their post. They were captured by the thousands and slaughtered by ISIS forces.
Veterans who fought in Iraq get to watch the country they fought so hard to stabilize, fall apart. As a veteran of the Iraq conflict, it’s a heartbreaking proposition to watch. I have experienced a whole range of emotions. Overall, I know I have to let it go, because as I said before, “You cannot force a society to embrace democracy.” As ISIS seeks to implement its radical form of Islamic law in the territories it occupies, we’re left wondering how much longer will it be before American blood will be shed in that part of the world again.
Veterans are not victims. We aren’t a helpless group to be moved around on the political chessboard, and we aren’t here to be milked by VA doctors and administrators because of a faceless bureaucracy. This country is void of leadership and it is blatantly obvious to any veteran. Where does the buck stop? Veterans do love this country and we will always revere the constitution. What veterans are sick of is the lack of accountability. I believe the American veteran is the best this country has to offer to anyone as an employee whether that be in commerce, local government, or federal government.
There are several issues that weren’t addressed in this article. We have the issue with the Marine, Sgt. Tahmooressi, that is currently being held in custody in Mexico. The military’s new tattoo policy, the cuts to tricare, disability benefits, veteran homelessness, suicide and unemployment are also among these issues. At this points the trials facing our veterans are endless.