Commentary - June 17th, 2014
2:40 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

Veteran's Viewpoint

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.

There’s a lot to talk about in the veterans’ world these days.  For example, on May 30th VA Secretary Shinseki resigned that position--but I find neither pleasure nor optimism in that action, mostly because of the way it came to be.

Some of the self-proclaimed or institutional veterans leadership foolishly and arrogantly pushed for Shinseki’s firing, eventually pulling the rug out from under his ability to straighten out a mess that was not at all of his own making  Joining them in a truly unholy, unhealthy cacophonous alliance were opportunistic politicians and political candidates who had suddenly ‘discovered’ how much they love veterans, and--pardon my cynicism--how good it would be to embarrass the president and anything resembling a national health care system.

So, Shinseki is gone, replaced by Sloan Gibson, who seems highly competent and genuine in his restoration efforts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not Shinseki’s apologist, but he was NOT the problem.  The problem goes much deeper and further back in history than this one man.

President Obama said it well in his speech announcing Shinseki’s resignation when he said that what most needed changing was the “culture”  of the VA bureaucracy, a ‘culture’ that rewards those administrators and administrative functionaries who find ways to deny an increased number of veterans’ claims, while simultaneously punishing VA ‘whistle-blowers’, or threatening their employment security.  This is the same culture that tolerates a claims adjudication system that, in some states (including Montana), approves less than one-fourth of all veterans’ claims.

And where were, are, or will be the majority of those who seemed so sure that Shinseki was the problem, or who have been oblivious for all but the most recent past of the unbroken line of VA outrages against veteran claimants?  They were, and will be again, found sitting on their hands, or voting against adequate and wisely-allocated funding of important veterans’ care issues, even as they vote for new wars that will create new groups of veterans needing care.

And by the way, let me re-emphasize an important point.  As many veterans have stated and written lately, medical personnel at the VA are overwhelmingly highly competent and dedicated professionals.

But how ironic it is to see the issues and potential resolutions spoken of by some of us veterans advocates for years now being offered as the brainchildren of the veteran world’s newest would-be champions. 

How loudly the pretenders do shout!

And now, before I go I want to comment on one more contemporary war-related topic.  U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released as a POW by the Taliban in Afghanistan in exchange for five terrorists being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo.  Much criticism of this swap has ensued, fueled in part by Bergdahl’s actions just prior to being captured. 

Frankly, all sides in this discussion have legitimate points to make.

Critics are right in pointing out that bargaining with terrorists is diplomatic folly--it merely empowers them to make greater demands and take stronger actions.  But defenders of this swap are correct in saying that trading insignificant thugs for an American soldier’s life is more important than following supposed rules in a war that has no rules, and with no likely fulfilling outcome.  And, while I tire of hearing the values of soldierly martyrdom from the likes of Marcus Latrielle, Ollie North, and their ilk; still, I recognize that there are soldierly principles that must be followed, even though principles and social logic may be otherwise lacking in war.

I don’t know enough about Bergdahl’s actions or how many lives he cost or endangered with an act that some are calling foolish--or even cowardly or treasonous, and I don’t know if the loss of five such prisoner/detainees from our holding pen at Gitmo is even an issue worthy of comment.

The key to this issue, it seems to me, is Bergdahl himself; whether his original actions were so wrong that his capture were something akin to his ‘just dessert’.  Harsh though this sounds, was he worth the trade?

A full-scale investigation into the whole Bergdahl incident has begun, with the army appointing a two-star general to head the task.  Good!  May it be thorough and fair.

It’s easy to find fault and suspicion in this matter, but until all of the facts are in, I choose to hold my criticism and scorn of this soldier from our neighbor state.

Instead, if I were going to be contemptuous of anything, I’d focus my contempt on those policymakers who will callously send American youth to fight wars of questionable value, and then allow them to flounder in our government’s veterans assistance agency that does not hold itself to the same high standards that we demand of our soldiers. 

Now that’s something worthy of our contempt!   

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.