Why Are We Failing Our Veterans?

Mondays are not a quiet time in The Java Shack.  Folks jolting the week into gear with an assist from the craft roasters at Café Moto.  Today was different.

Two steps in the door and there’s the reason in headline bold: VA Scandal Hits Home in Painful Fashion.  Damn.  The VA story, a slow-drip horror, has now come to our neighborhood.

Another American vet has chosen suicide, a local this time.

“Shit,” I say.   Only the espresso machine answers.   I exhale, sit and wait.   A long minute passes.  Then Big Truck erupts.

“Bullshit! Nothing but gawd-damned bullshit.  We’re not keeping faith.  We’re not honoring the deal we made, America made,” he says.

He’s right.  With nine years and counting since the first big vet-care scandal was ripped open at Walter Reed in Bethesda, I wonder, how long must veterans wait?

“People who answered the call are dying.  Good people.  People who believed in the deal,” Big Truck sighs.  “Capitol Hill ditherers knot the purse strings with one hand and polish their Stars and Stripes lapel pins with the other.  Makes me puke,” says Big Truck.

As congressional committees preen for the cameras, and despairing vets are lost in endless queues, others respond.  Some have the best intentions, and some are opportunists.  The opportunists and their eyebrow-raising balance sheets are also making the news.

“Last week we got a nice, glossy solicitation in the mail,” says Retired Accountant.  “Gut-punching appeal to help our wounded warriors, but all I could think was Why?  Not why help, but why isn’t the help already in place.  Why is there any doubt that our vets are getting what they need, when they need it?”

Padres Hat had had enough.  “That there’s one steaming pile of hooey,” he spat.  “We need to pass the tin cup for our vets?  What the hell?  That stinks.”

“Bullshit, pure and simple,” Big Truck echoed himself.

“Well, I’ve talked to many vets,” said Math Teacher.  “They’ll tell you that some VA facilities are first rate, others more akin to Third World.”

“Why?” I ask.  “They can’t say,” he replies.  “But the suicide stories keep coming, each one a call too late.”  We stared at our cups.

The muscles twisting Baja Shirt’s face have a story to tell.  But the anger runs too deep.  He keeps his counsel and everyone respects the silence.

Shack regulars bring in a dog’s breakfast of opinions – smeared all over the political landscape.  Still, we get along just fine.  We leave big words in the dictionary and trust that our nation’s promises will be kept.

A deal’s a deal.  Not a bundle of assurances tied with strings of sand.  We’ve got suitcases of cash for warlords in the ‘stans.  So where’s the money to care for our injured troops?

People don’t leave the Shack depressed.  Today we did.  Thinking about the deal we made – every damn one of us.  And ashamed.

© 2016 David Leighton