Failing Those Who Served Us

by JANET LEVY May 11, 2017

Three years after the 2014 Veterans Health Administration scandal erupted in headlines, outrage, investigations, and the resignation of then-secretary of veterans' affairs Eric Shinseki, veterans still must contend with an agency that provides less than stellar service.

A government report issued in February found that the VA's shift to using more private-sector care for veterans has its own problems.  They include cumbersome authorization and scheduling procedures, inadequate provider networks, and the potential for veterans having to pay their own treatment costs.  Plus wait times for care, the heart of the 2014 scandal, are still long: an average of 45 days for 53% of veterans.

Problematic health care, as well as the descent into homelessness for a growing number of our nation's veterans, belies our posture of national pride in our troops.  We label them heroes, and then we fail to properly provide for them.

The problems of inadequate health care began to surface in 2012 and 2013, when two doctors at the Phoenix VA Health Care System voiced concerns.  The whistleblowers said they had witnessed substandard care, that VA officials had falsified health service wait times, and that 40 veterans died while waiting for health care.  These claims were later verified by the Veterans Administration, and investigations began nationwide.

A 2014 General Accounting Office audit of 731 VA medical centers and outpatient clinics reported that roughly 100,000 veterans nationwide were experiencing long wait times for health care.  Another VA report detailed specific techniques used to falsify wait times.  

Still other allegations of mismanagement surfaced in 2014, when a congressional committee revealed that more than $380,000 in bonuses were awarded to directors and top executives of 38 VA facilities where falsification of records and delays in care were being examined.  The money was part of $2.7 million in extra pay given in 2013 to top-ranking VA officials.

Further, a 2015 VA report found that the VA had such sloppy record keeping that 307,000 veterans out of 867,000 pending cases on the VA's list of electronic records were actually deceased.  VA officials could not conclude if the veterans had received care, were still waiting for care, or had even applied for care.  Nonetheless, some concluded that those veterans had died while waiting for medical help.

During his campaign for office, President Trump pledged to fix the sorry state of VA health care.  So far, he has reauthorized the shift of some services to the private sector under the Choice Program, which is off to a rocky start but enables veterans to seek medical services outside the VA system.  He also appointed as secretary of veterans' affairs David Shulkin, who since 2015 oversaw the VA.  Shulkin, now as head of the entire agency, has embarked on a 10-point plan to reform the VA.

In addition to the tragic issue of poor health care, almost 40,000 of our nation's veterans experience homelessness, according to 2016 federal Housing and Urban Development statistics.  Homeless veterans make up about 7% of the nation's homeless population of more than 560,000.  At 3,000 homeless veterans, Los Angeles has the highest veteran homeless population in the country.

The HUD-VASH (HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program has provided a voucher program for veterans since 2008 with 85,000 total issued since then.  Congress set aside $60 million in 2016 to serve 8,000 families.  But the program has its critics, among them Vietnam-era veteran Robert Rosebrock, a veterans' rights advocate, who has said that the program is wholly inadequate and places at-risk veterans in dangerous surroundings far from health care facilities and support networks.

In Los Angeles, Rosebrock has been a familiar protest figure on site at the 387-acre West Los Angeles Veterans Administration, the largest VA veterans' home property in the nation.  In 1888, the land was bequeathed to veterans as part of a charitable trust established to create a "National Home" for American veterans.

But for decades, the site, close to the upscale Brentwood neighborhood, was used, not for the benefit of veterans, but for various private and public projects.  They included a public dog park, a post office parking lot, a hotel laundry service, an athletic stadium for a local private school, and a college baseball stadium.  In 2009, Disney held a fundraiser there for children with AIDS in South Africa.  The facility has even been leased for a television production.

Rosebrock and a small group of veterans demonstrated every Sunday and Memorial Day.  For his efforts, he received multiple citations over the years which he views as retaliation for his efforts on behalf of his fellow veterans.  On Memorial Day in 2016, he was criminally charged for displaying two four-by-six-inch American flags on the fence outside of the West Los Angeles VA facility and faced up to six months in jail.  Almost a year later, after securing assistance from government watchdog Judicial Watch, Rosebrock's case was heard in federal court.  Fortunately, the judge assigned to what appeared to be a vindictive prosecution ruled for Mr. Rosebrock and dismissed the case.

Meanwhile, development of 1,200 units of housing for veterans, plus supportive services, was announced in 2016.  The shift to veterans' housing came about after the VA, under Secretary Robert A. McDonald, Shinseki's replacement, settled a 2011 lawsuit brought against it by the ACLU of Southern California.  The lawsuit argued that the West Los Angeles land should be used as it was first designated - for housing veterans.  McDonald and the VA acquiesced. Currently, progress continues on the master plan.  One small, older building was refurbished and opened in 2015 with 65 units of housing.

But transformation of the property for housing will take precious time.  And John Rowan, the CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America, says time is in short supply for today's Vietnam veterans, who he says are "elderly, frail and in declining health and are being forced to live in deplorable circumstances."

Rowan had questioned the commitment of the VA and the mayor of Los Angeles to achieve their stated goal of eliminating veteran homelessness in America by 2016.  Clearly, this has not been accomplished, and veteran suffering has not been alleviated, despite proclamations and master plans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still is underperforming for our veterans and not doing enough fast enough to address the shameful situation of deficient health care and homelessness for those who have served our country.  Rather than honoring their service and alleviating their suffering, the government has failed to meet its obligation to this underserved and often forgotten population.

If the U.S. government can spend $7.2 billion in taxpayer dollars to support the 552,237 refugees resettled in America from 2006 to 2014, the federal government can certainly do a better job of taking care of our veterans.  Failing to do so makes all our talk of valuing our veterans ring hollow for veterans suffering today.

A version of this piece also appeared on

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Janet Levy, MBA, MSW, is an activist, world traveler, and freelance journalist who has contributed to American Thinker, Pajamas Media, Full Disclosure Network, FrontPage Magazine, Family Security Matters and other publications. She blogs at

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