The tiny Salisbury Post, from Salisbury, North Carolina, has an article in last Friday's paper about the current VA Secretary, James Peake, M.D., meeting with veterans at the local VFW, along with their U.S. senator, Richard Burr. Click here for the link. The story is entitled, 'Old soldier' vows to take care of veterans, deal with VA claims backlog," and it's an interesting story to read, mostly from the point of view of wanting to remember, for posterity, what Peake is saying his point of view is regarding veterans. The article quotes him as saying, among other things, "The idea is to get out and really understand what's going on with the veterans, and how well we're taking care of them." While that's a laudable sentiment, so far as it goes, it and other quotes like it make Peake sound an awful lot like he's currently on a "fact-finding mission" at the moment, talking with veterans to see how their care is going, and how they and their families feel about it. And if that's true, it's "nice." It's a little bit like childhood memories of school principals or maybe even superintendents walking around the lunchroom, asking elementary schoolers who basically had no real vote in the process how they liked what the cafeteria was serving. Somewhat of a pr move, even at the best of times, and if the school were in fact on fire, really not the best use of time, or conversation to be having.
In the present case, it seems that the facts of what's been going on with veterans care have been more than adequately laid out for all to see, and that the process of triaging out the worst problems and starting with fixing them could already be underway. So I'm not really sure what to think about this. I want to believe it's sincere, but talking with a few veterans and VA staff at a single VFW doesn't really constitute aggressively going after change. It's fair to say most of us who've been following this topic with any regularity already have a pretty clear idea of what the issues are. And here's the thing: there's basically NO TIME TO WASTE, while veterans are dying by their own hands, or taking forever to get in and get appointments to be seen, etc. There's an old saw in the legal biz that "justice delayed is justice denied," and the same is true here. The difference between being seen or treated and not can mean the difference between life and death to some veterans.
I understand and sympathize that there's a public relations aspect to any job this big, and Peake is very much a political appointee, not an elected official. However, to the extent that we can dispense with the fireside chat and start triaging the mess we're in, so much the better. The public relations aspect might be better left for a window of relatively little activity, in other words, when things seem reasonably fine. If things are pretty much under control already, then great, get out there and met the vets, and get the scorecard on how things are really going. But when the scorecard is already in the paper, and is already clear for all to see, it seems like it's more likely a form of not taking things seriously enough. If my car is up on blocks in the yard, it's really not time to get it detailed, or fuss about how long it's been since I've washed it. More serious issues are afoot -- with all due respect, let's get ON with it. There is no shortage of work to do, and veterans to be served, who, with their families, are waiting.