California shooting highlights complexities, importance of veterans’ issues

Benjamin Brewster

Head: California shooting highlights complexities, importance of veterans’ issues

By: Benjamin Brewster

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On Friday, March 9th, a 36-year-old decorated Army veteran entered the Pathway Home, a non-profit veterans organization in northern California, and killed three women and himself after an hours long hostage situation. This event, unthinkable and tragic in its own right, should also serve as a reminder as to the troubling state many of our nation’s veterans are still in, and of the progress that must be made to ensure that our veterans get the care and treatment they deserve.

Now, before I begin, let me make one thing clear – while this column is openly critical of the VA and the overall state of veterans’ care across the country, it does not seek to suggest that the VA is in any way culpable or responsible for the tragic events that took place in Yountville, California this past weekend. There is absolutely no evidence thus far of any improper or problematic conduct by the VA (or any other entity) in the follow up to this event, and to suggest so at this point in time would be both improper and completely unsubstantiated.

However, the government assistance programs aimed at assisting veterans in our country has been a source of great tumult and scandal for years, as shown by the multiple failures exposed (and in part expanded) under the Obama Administration. This shooting, while in no way tied to these scandals or failings, should remind us of just how sensitive and important veterans’ health issues can be. And, if there’s any way that a tragedy like this could be prevented in the future, we must make sure those necessary safeguards are in effect.

Just two days before the shooting, the VA’s internal watchdog released a report stating that “failed leadership at multiple levels” during the tenure of the current VA Secretary David Shulkin put patients at a Washington VA hospital at risk, according to the Chicago Tribune. Similarly, an Inspector General’s report issued last month exposed $92 million in waste, as well as the fact that VA hospitals placed patients’ sensitive information in 1,300 unsealed boxes, risking completely avoidable breaches in personal security for thousands of patients.

Similarly, according to a Washington Post report, Shulkin is currently entrenched in a power struggle within his department, one which has seen him cancel his morning meetings with Trump aides, stop speaking entirely to some of his officials, and threaten to fire others. He even keeps an armed guard outside his office while he is present there. In addition, the department’s internal watchdog recently claimed that he improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, and then proceeded to use taxpayer funds to pay for his wife’s airfare to the event. 

And all this comes as nearly 40,000 U.S. veterans were identified as homeless as of January 2016, and as a U.S. veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes – for a total of 22 per day – in America today, according to “Coming Back with Wes Moore”, a PBS series. 

Quite simply, we can and must do better for our nation’s heroes.

So, what should be done? First, President Trump should put the full weight of his office and his authority on Shulkin to get his departments’ affairs in order. If he doesn’t, or if he can’t, fire him and replace him with someone who can. Second, Mr. Trump should make the consolidating of the two currently competing Senate VA bills one of his administration’s top priorities, and should mount pressure upon any figure who stands in his way.

A better future for our veterans must be a reality. For all our sakes, let’s make it one.