Allen B. West

Calling all veterans: send me your experiences in the VA system

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Recently, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had a little unprofessional tussle during a budget hearing with Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a veteran of both Iraq wars. After a few minutes of arguing over huge cost overruns at a Denver VA hospital, McDonald snapped at Coffman: “I’ve run a large company, sir. What have you done?”

McDonald brushed aside his responsibility for the problem based on his time on the job and insinuated that Rep. Coffman actually owned the problem.

Fox reports that Coffman didn’t respond at the hearing. “But the four-term lawmaker said in a statement later that he could tell McDonald a few things he hasn’t done.”

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“I have never run a federal agency that tolerates corruption the way the VA has. I’ve never built a hospital that’s years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget. And I’ve never been a shill for inept bureaucrats who allowed American heroes to die on a medical waiting list.”

Apparently nothing has really changed at the VA. The Washington Times writes, “The embattled Veterans Affairs Department, now ranked by a government watchdog as among the most troubled federal agencies, is reminding employees in a memo why they should care about their work.”

“The document circulating among employees is titled the “I CARE Quick Reference” sheet, and it spells out the desired core values of the VA: integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. The memo says the VA is “a model of unrivaled excellence due to employees who are empowered, trusted by their leaders, and respected for their competence and dedication.” But after a year in which VA officials were accused of keeping secret waiting lists and concealing delayed care for veterans, some agency employees and veterans are questioning the “I CARE” program as a cosmetic effort that will do little to improve services.”

This reminds me of that “Potemkin Village” presentation given to Catherine the Great. The six-month-old Choice Act has supposedly been underused– when the truth is bureaucratic red tape has discouraged veterans from using it.

“Management has made a mockery of it,” (The I CARE program) said one VA employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. The head of a veterans group said veterans and active-duty service members are still waiting for “real, meaningful change” in the VA’s quality and promptness of health care services.“

“Adopting a catchy acronym and circulating a checklist is not enough,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “It’s easy to put on an ‘I CARE’ pin, but it doesn’t matter unless you actually demonstrate that care through your actions and the results you deliver. That’s what veterans, military members and their families are looking for: real results, not a slogan.”

“VA Secretary Robert McDonald, tapped by President Obama last year to revamp the embattled agency, said in a statement on the agency’s website that the “I CARE” principles “focus our minds on our mission of caring and thereby guide our actions toward service to others. These values define our culture and strengthen our dedication to those we serve.”

I’d like to hear back from you veterans out there about your experience with the VA system.

What has been your experience with the Choice Act program — if you even knew about it in the first place?

Secondly, tell us your anecdotal stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Veterans Administration hospital system — yes, we want to know the good stories, because not all of the facilities are poorly run.

And lastly, what are your recommendations? We’ll try to capture these stories and pass them onto the House and Senate VA committee chairmen.

Please email your stories to [email protected]

If we’re going to affect a policy change, then your voices must be heard. And I’d be honored to be the platform by which that can be enabled.

Steadfast and Loyal.

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