Today, we celebrate the men and women who sacrifice their lives and livelihoods for us by defending our interests overseas and protecting us on our homeland.
When veterans need help, we often think it’s the role of the Veteran’s Administration (VA) which serves some 22 million people. However, following this year’s scandal that revealed excessive wait times and poor care contributed to the deaths of veteran patients, our confidence in the VA is understandably shaken.
The Secretary of the VA announced this week a complete restructuring which includes the firing or discipline of more than 1,000 workers involved the mistreatment of patients and the hiring of thousands more doctors and healthcare workers. That’s a start.
What is often overlooked are the private organizations working tirelessly to do what government fails to do or to provide needed help where government aid ends. Beyond just immediate needs of food, shelter, and healthcare, many veterans, including those who suffered severe injuries, need help to become sustainable and that’s a role that civil society is filling.
In California for example, an organization called V.E.T.S. (Vocation, Education, and Training Service) members, was developed to help veterans take advantage of the skills they learned in the military and apply them to the private sector where they can secure jobs. Veterans are provided training, pay, and given a laptop. Those are the new tools they need to combat the 9.9 percent unemployment veterans face.
Los Angeles Daily News reports on this effort and others:
There are 21.4 million veterans in the United States today, with 1.9 million of them living in California. Los Angeles is home to more than 380,000 veterans.
Issues involving veterans over the past year have focused on problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs and its ability to provide health care to its aging population and processing of claims for disability benefits, said Steve Peck of U.S.VETS, a nonprofit corporation that works out of the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles that has become a one-stop center to help veterans on everything from applying for benefits to education and the homeless.
Peck said they have been able to make major strides with the homeless veteran population, which he estimated at 6,000 of the 73,000 estimated homeless people in Los Angeles County.
Peck said it is not the Iraq-Afghanistan vets who make up most of the homeless, but those from the Vietnam era, which brings its own problems of trying to break the cycle of people living on the streets.
One of the challenges, he said, is keeping the public focused on the issue beyond days like Veterans Day or Memorial Day.
We applaud the efforts of organizations that depend on private contributions to serve our service members and their families.
It's a reminder that even when government tries its best to meet the needs of Americans, it is all too often akin to a ship run aground. A bloated bureaucracy, red tape, mismanagement, lack of oversight, and perverse incentives drag the vessel off course. Because it's too big to turn, the behemoth runs ashore and has no way to get back to sea.
Private organizations may boast smaller budgets but they can be more agile and nimble and can deliver targeted help with celerity. Quick course correction allows them to adjust to the changing needs of the veterans they serve and the economic realities they face. What is ever quick with the government?
The problem is that government crowds out private charity. It's incumbent on our leaders and government to recognize where the private sector is most effective and yield to it. Perhaps if the VA operated like a private system, delivery of care would be careful, consistent, and most importantly, may have kept those ill-fated patients alive.
Our men and women in uniform deserve the best when they return from fighting. Anything short of that is a disservice.