Trump has turned Veterans Affairs into an unending nightmare. And the people who fought for the country are the ones paying the highest price for his incompetence.
Trump made it clear last Friday how little respect he has for the military when he attacked three war heroes. And new reporting on the disaster that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become makes it even more painfully obvious.
The New York Times documents the “chaos” that has engulfed the V.A. under Trump, and particularly its medical system. As he has “plunged the department into turmoil,” doctors are burning out and veterans are being left behind.
After Trump fired V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, he tried to install Dr. Ronny Jackson in his place. But that turned into a spectacular failure, as Jackson’s questionable past and lack of qualifications quickly scuttled his nomination.
Meanwhile, as the Times notes, “a string of departures at the highest level of the agency has left it adrift.”
Efforts in Congress to fix the health care system, known as Veterans Choice, have been fitful for years. And the interminable wait times veterans have experienced trying to access care have been a massive black mark against the agency.
None of that looks to improve any time soon. “You’ve got a huge vacuum of leadership,” former V.A. Secretary Robert McDonald told the Times.
And John Hoellwarth, a spokesperson for AMVETS, added that the V.A. “for months has been hemorrhaging career officials at an alarming rate.” He pointed out that no amount of spin can make that fact look good.
“I’ve never known the enthusiastic mass exodus of an organization’s most knowledgeable and experienced personnel to be an indication that all is well.”
In addition, medical providers at the V.A. confirm that troubling view, based on their first-hand experiences.
“I’ve been doing this 30 years, and it’s the worst it’s ever been,” said Dr. Murray Altose, former chief of staff at the V.A. hospital in Cleveland. And he noted that younger staffers are especially concerned that the upheaval could hit close to home.
“They don’t know if they have a future here.”
That’s hardly a mindset to ensure a well-run agency. And veterans — people who put their lives on the line for the country — bear the brunt of it.
“The department planned to announce a major reorganization of its health care system administration this week, designed to avoid failures in care that have incited repeated scandals in the hospital system,” the Times notes.
“It did not happen.”
Instead, some political appointees within the V.A. seem more focused on imitating Trump. They “hold meetings without career staff members and talk openly about purging anyone they see as friendly” to Shulkin. Deputy Secretary Thomas G. Bowman has been “isolated” by Trump’s appointees, who want to drive him out much like they did Shulkin.
Yet even among all of this petty scheming and neglect of their actual mission, agency spokesperson Curt Cashour insisted to the Times that everything was just fine.
Under Trump, “the V.A. has had its most productive year in decades,” Cashour said in a statement. He laid blame for the negative press on the “V.A.’s Washington bureaucracy.” And he sneered at “employees who were wedded to the status quo and not on board with this administration’s policies.”
But groups like AMVETS and doctors like Altose see it quite differently. As does Dr. Neil Elkin, a primary care physician who recently left the Ukiah Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Northern California.
“The V.A. seems like a jumbo jet over the Atlantic without a pilot right now,” he said. “There is chaos in the cockpit, and there is chaos in the cabin, too.”
Trump has never shown anything even approaching respect for veterans or the military. He turned a solemn ceremony into an occasion for jokes and grandiosity. He’s threatened their pay, plunging families into anxiety. And he can barely pretend to care when troops are missing or killed.
Furthermore, the four American soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger provided perhaps the most horrifying example of Trump’s inadequacy as commander in chief.
Yet he still deemed it appropriate to demand a military parade, ostensibly to in part honor him.
Yet as his past and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ present clearly prove, he deserves nothing of the kind.