Thank you veterans, veterans; you kept your promise.

Thank you veterans, veterans; you kept your promise.

May 26th, 2014 in Opinion Times

The United States remains at war. Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers remain in harm's way in Afghanistan.

The number who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years continues to climb -- more than 6,800 since January 2001. And some of America's war veterans appear to be dying here at home waiting for medical help.

There are 21.6 million living U.S. veterans today. They are all watching with the rest of us to see if decades of problems with the government's health care system for veterans will finally be fixed.

Recent reports from Arizona indicate that not only was the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix wallowing in a long backlog with sick veterans waiting months and dying as they waited, but there also appears to have been a secret set of books created to hide the fact that administrators were consistently violating the maximum wait time VA officials set for appropriate care.

What makes this story hardest to take is that it has been years -- decades -- in the making.

President Barack Obama came into office with a pledge to fix it after a Bush administration in 2007 had ignored deplorable conditions at some VA hospitals and neglected to plan necessary care for veterans of our newest wars.

Over the next several years, waiting lists were cut in half -- or at least we thought they were. The question now is: Are those numbers real?

During the same years, VA funding increased 38 percent, but that was clearly not enough.

Thirteen years of war have resulted in a crush of new veterans in need of health care, and there simply are not enough doctors to serve them all.

Medical outcome reports indicate a veteran's care seems as good or better than commercial care once that veteran gets to a doctor. The problem is getting in -- the problem is the wait time to see the VA's fine physicians, and right now we have more veterans needing more care than we have had in a generation.

In February, Republicans blocked a bill from independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to provide $21 billion to enhance medical and other benefits for veterans.

The senator's bill was the largest piece of veterans legislation in decades, and it aimed to expand health care, education and other benefits. It died on a vote of 56-41, with only two Republicans voting for it.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., summed up the GOP position this way: "I don't think our veterans want their programs to be enhanced if every penny of the money that's going to enhance those programs is added to the debt of the United States of America."

Really? Got a better candidate for U.S. debt? Thirteen years of war, maybe? Oh, but wait ....

In case you're wondering, Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker joined Sessions in voting against the veterans bill and locking it into that leaderless mire we call the Washington gridlock.

Of course, none of that excuses VA administrators in Phoenix or anywhere else for gaming the system and cheating to meet federal standards and stay out of trouble -- or to obtain a bonus.

But, here we are, on Memorial Day, 2014 -- the day we honor the men and women who have died for our freedom, our country, our way of life and our ideals. Along with that honor, it also is a day when we should be grateful to the millions of others who have served and still serve in our military.

We all know someone who has served our country. Many of us know someone serving now.

And we all know that reserving just one day a year to be appreciative of them is 364 days too few.

A holiday cannot make up for a Congress that said yes to sending them to war -- at what now is believed to be a cost of about $6 trillion -- but no to $21 billion in better health care and benefits and job training for veterans.

Today's message to veterans, however insufficient, is nonetheless, heartfelt.

Thank you all for your service.