To The Daily Sun,
Our fearless leaders in Congress are at it again. With mid-term elections approaching, they've stumbled upon yet another scandal to blame on Mr. Obama and divert public focus away from their own miserable performance.
VA Chief Eric Shinseki is the latest whipping boy. He resigned Friday in response to angry demands from the "Hill" — it was impossible for Mr. Obama to ignore that chest beating troop of 98 pound gorillas that inhabits the Capitol, seeking the director's head on the president's platter.
Members of his own party called on the president to relieve Shinseki over "systemic" failures of the VA health care system. The lack of proper care for veterans, called "criminal," prompted Senator McCain (R-Ariz.) to inquire whether the Justice Department should investigate.
It's probably a toss-up whether Congress will achieve more political yardage over Benghazi, or the VA, but one thing's for sure, in the coming months, the voters' attention will be drawn to the failures of a presidential hopeful, a retired four-star general, and the president, with whom the buck stops. After all, the president hired the members of his Cabinet — he's ultimately accountable for his own judgment in selecting them. This is especially true when it comes to the man he picked to run the massive bureaucracy that provides healthcare for our nation's veterans.
But wait a minute. Is the fact that the VA's a horrible mess really news to anyone? The "whistleblower" and VA inspector general didn't surface much that millions of veterans and their families haven't experienced for decades.
I spent 38 years in the service — I knew there'd come a day when I'd find out if I should've believed the horrific stories I'd heard about the VA. My recent hour-long physical exam in Pensacola — after waiting a year and a half for an appointment — was amazing, but not surprising.
This VA debacle can't have come as a news flash for our intrepid lawmakers in DC, can it? Sen. McCain didn't know about lengthy waits for appointments in his home state? If not, why not? If so, why didn't he do something about it? He's been in Washington longer than most, and a veteran to boot.
Our politicians in Washington — especially the ones who've been there for years — share the burden with Messrs. Shinseki and Obama for the mess at the VA. Directors and presidents have come and gone over the past decades. There have been seven bosses at the VA since its inception, and I'm relatively certain the department was as screwed up at the beginning as it is now. So, aren't all the prior directors and presidents to blame? Congress has been there the whole time — do they get a free pass?
Mr. Obama is being called to task for the misdeeds of his cabinet appointee. Maybe the president picked the wrong guy (although, if you can't count on a four-star general, former Army Chief and combat veteran with two purple hearts to get the job done, who can you pick?)
But what of our U.S. senators who unanimously confirmed General Shinseki as director? Don't they have a hand in this insult to America's veterans? Isn't their judgment suspect as well as Mr. Obama's?
What of the members of Congress who've been serving on the various committees involving the military and veterans? Aren't they responsible for "oversight" of how the VA is run? Of course they are, and they should have been howling for years about why our vets complain of substandard treatment at VA hospitals all over the country. Why is it that Congress seems shocked by all this — and the best they can do is call on the president to fire the guy their upper house brethren all agreed was the perfect candidate to lead the VA?
What about Florida's representative in the First District? His official biography crows about his role: "United States Representative Jeff Miller serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. The Committee on Veterans' Affairs is responsible for authorization and oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA is the second largest department in the federal government with over 300,000 employees and a budget of over $150 billion."
Maybe along with calling on General Shinseki to resign, Mr. Miller should have pulled out paper and pen as well.
This failure of congressional oversight can't be the result of their being overworked. No, Congress just has better things to do. Take the bill that's just been introduced with bi-partisan support by representatives Ruiz (D-Calif.), Barrow (D-Ga.), Gozar (R-Ariz.) and Jones (R-N.C.), titled the "If Our Military Has to Fly Coach Then So Should Congress" Act. The law seeks to prohibit members of the legislative branch (aka Congress and Senate) from flying first class. Mr. Gosar called the federal legislation an attempt to "eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in federal government." Mr. Ruiz said, "It's wrong that members of Congress can purchase luxury airfare with taxpayer money" when constituents are struggling to make ends meet.
Imagine that: the politicians are introducing a bill to keep themselves from ripping off the American taxpayer, announcing that what's good enough for the American GI is good enough for them. They're trying to protect us, from them. Congress is outraged at the abuses over at the VA, while at the same time, they're going to take up a bill to curb their own waste of government funds? Besides proposing a law to prohibit doing something that any good public servant would know is wrong, they're pandering for votes from America's military.
Maybe Congress should have passed a law requiring them to use the VA health care system, if they want a taste of life in the trenches. At least they'd have figured out before now, what everybody else knows about the VA. And, having suffered with the system, the question is whether they'd do anything besides sucking it up and grousing like the rest of us. I have no doubt, the answer to that one.
Whenever I hear politicians refer to American fighting men and women as "boots on the ground," I wonder if that's what they think of us — and why fixing the VA healthcare nightmare hasn't long been the focus of their constant attention. I hope when everyone who served the nation in uniform — their families, friends and anyone else who cares about veterans — turns out to vote in November, they remember this pathetic example of incumbent congressional "oversight" and cast their ballot accordingly.
Bruce Van Derven