Celebrating Veterans Day: The Fight Continues at Home

This Thursday is Veterans Day. This is one of my favorite days of the year because it is the only day that I see veterans get the acknowledgement they deserve. However, honoring our veterans needs to happen more than just one day out of 365. 

Our veterans pledged to serve our country. When they did this, they signed up for the unknown. They could be deployed and serve in combat and possibly not make it back to tell their story. 

Yet, those who do make it back are often forgotten, washed up and drained of their last ounce of dignity. For some veterans, they win the war overseas, but lose the war at home. 

Here are the facts: the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that there are 107,000 homeless veterans. The Urban Institute, along with the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, found that, as of 1996, out of the 2.3 million to 3.5 million people who experience homelessness, 23% of all homeless persons are veterans and 33% of all homeless men are veterans. NSHAPC projects between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans will experience homelessness at some point during the year.

This is not where veteran statistics end. The Military Times reports that pre-COVID-19, the veteran suicide rate was at 18 suicides each day. As of 2018, the Veterans Administration reported the raw number of suicides that year by veterans was 6,660, with 6,324 being male and 336 being female. Veterans make up a total of 14% of total suicides in America as of 2018 as well. 

This is all projected to be higher due to the isolation the pandemic caused, however the Department of Veteran Affairs has not released this data yet. All statistics concerning veteran suicide by the Department of Veteran Affairs proceeding 2019 has not been disclosed. Their 2019 findings were nearly identical to their 2018 findings. 

In all transparency, reading these statistics caused me a heavy heart and teary eyes. Understandably, my veteran ties hit closer to home than most with an immediate family member serving 20 years of their life (the first 14 of mine) in the United States Marine Corps. However, I do not believe it takes someone whose family has a military background to agree that our veterans deserve more. 

It is easy to get lost in these statistics. However, for some, these statistics represent a father, a sister or a child. These statistics represent a mourning heart’s reality. 

There are endless possibilities that could potentially help our veterans, however they all must begin with a thorough investigation and remodel of the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Our veterans deserve care and treatment, but the medical center is doing the opposite to provide this. 

In 2015, the medical center, located in Houston, Texas, was exposed for altering records to hide the patient waiting lists in various news reports from Fox News, The Houston Chronicle and Fierce Healthcare reports. Unfortunately, this is not the only veterans administration (VA) medical center reported to have done this. According to Fierce Healthcare, the Houston VA scandal occurred nearly two years after the Phoenix, Arizona VA wait time scandal, which led to the resignation of then VA secretary Eric Shinseki. 

According to Fox News, “the audit was performed after the IG [the VA office inspector general] received an anonymous tip saying officials instructed staff to incorrectly record cancellations. Records showed 223 appointments were incorrectly recorded as patient cancellations between July 2014 and June 2015.” 

They continue to report that out of these 223 cancellations, 94 of the appointments were postponed on an average of 81 days. 

What does this mean? According to Vox, these facilities manipulated wait times by keeping secret wait lists, kept from federal regulators, where patients had to wait 115 days to be seen by a primary care provider. CNN reported over 40 veterans died on the wait lists at the Phoenix hospital alone and ABC News reports this was a direct link to the scandal.  

David Maulsby, the executive director of a Houston PTSD Foundation, said in a statement to Fox News that, “The greater problem is that our veterans, who have already borne the cost of war, are now required to bear the cost of not receiving the care they deserve.”

The Houston medical center is the same medical center my father went to for treatment throughout his time in the military. Following his retirement in 2014, he continues to go there to this day. 

This summer, at a Young Americas Foundation conference in Houston, Congressman Dan Crenshaw gave a one-hour presentation on a variety of political topics. Crenshaw is the representative for my district and is one of my favorite politicians. After his speech, he opened the floor for questions, during which I asked him for possible VA healthcare reform. Congressman Crenshaw directly told me he did not believe the Houston medical center was as bad as people make it out to be and that it gets a “bad rep”. 

In my opinion, Representative Crenshaw is going purely based on his own experience of the VA, and although a good experience, is ignoring the fact he is a U.S. congressman and will therefore receive different, or rather, special treatment. His experience is going to be different than a regular veteran who has no political ties. 

And this is where the crux of the problem lies. Our congressmen have repeatedly ignored the issue that is the VA medical system. The statistics speak differently than the words spoken by my representative. Congress must be acknowledging the problem and fire those who need to be fired because, until then, these scandals will keep happening. 

This veterans day, keep these issues in mind. Spend some extra time in prayer for these veterans, asking God that they do not become a statistic. And finally, thank a veteran for their service. It means a lot more to them than you can imagine. 

MacKenzie is the opinion editor. Follow her on Twitter.

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