Personally speaking, I’ve had a great experience at the VA. I’ve taken a couple trips to the ER, had some routine checkups, received quality treatment for a broken finger, and a couple other small things here and there. Many (not all) of the people I have met that complain about the VA are often forgetting to mention the faults of their own — they didn’t show up to an appointment, they tried to exaggerate claims, or they simply like to complain. On top of that, I had known plenty of people who had received just as good care as I had over the years, and they didn’t seem like any wild exceptions.
So when I went into the world of the VA as a journalist, I was a bit skeptical.
However, my evidence is purely anecdotal, and largely based on the fact that I have been lucky to be near certain VAs that do have pretty high standards.
As it would turn out, I discovered not only a wild gap in the quality of care from one VA to the next, but there were larger issues to be dealt with than how rude the nurse at the VA ER is, or the month-long delay in getting your VA ID.
There are serious systemic problems throughout the VA — transplant logistical issues, lack of access to VAs, the crippling bureaucracy, the seemingly infinite disability claims backlog, and of course the infamous “privatization” which allows corrupt officials to make huge sums of money off of the VA system as it exists today.
I have covered several stories in that last category, the most extensive of which was about Dan Martin, a VA engineer who blew the whistle on contracts which were being awarded under less than honest circumstances. Corrupt VA employees were (and still are) making money hand over fist in their deals with third-party contractors, leveraging their positions to their advantage and receiving kickbacks for their efforts, or supporting a family business and profiting off of that.
What has more recently caught my eye is the way in which this corruption has gone on to keep the VA in a place of stagnation. Change in the system, in quality and standards of care, or in the logistical realms of transplants or disability claims — these things seem to be eternally perpetuating problems that the VA makes little-to-no headway on year after year.
I believe it to be firmly rooted in the combination of privatization and government-sanctioned contracts. Say what you will about the evils of capitalism, or conversely the terror of government bureaucracy — I think we can all agree that a hybrid between the two serves those in charge first and foremost.
Need a landscaping job done at your local VA hospital? Hire your brother’s company and charge the VA four times the regular price. Need a water filtration system installed? Have your wife create a water filtration company under her maiden name, and indefinitely stall the installation while your wife still gets paid.
They are siphoning taxpayer money meant for Veterans into their own pockets, and they’re using the current system we have to do it.
And so why would they endeavor to fix all of the other things? The system may be damaged, but it profits them immensely.
Many of these corrupt officials are running the VAs in some capacity or another. They silence any voices of dissent and struggle to keep the system exactly how it is in order to continue to profit.
That doesn’t mean they are sitting on their stacks of money, twisting their mustaches and laughing maniacally, but it does mean that any small changes here and there pointed at improving (read: changing) the system is a threat to their way of life.
They have many tools to keep change from occurring, most of which are mundane, everyday procedures like stalling a project here or making sure funding goes to their “landscaping” project there. Sometimes they do some more dramatic things, like pushing a whistleblower in an office far away — where no one can hear the whistle at all, or finding a way to get put on a lead position in an investigation of wrongdoing.
They are successful in using these techniques of bureaucracy. Many Veterans think that complaining about the VA is a way to get their voices heard — and they can be correct, in some instances. However, the corrupt VA officials (not to be confused with the good ones, who are absolutely out there as well and need to be supported) like it when everyone conflates all of the problems together. If one develops a culture of complaints, then they make the complaining normal. They make complaining about a rude employee at the front desk sound like “the same ol’ VA” who scams several hundred thousand dollars here and there. And then none of those issues ever gets seriously addressed.
As it so often does, many of these problems we see at the VA comes down to the money in the pockets of the corrupt. There are so many good people working at these VAs, on every level of management, seeking to help and give back to our nation’s Veterans. They deserve better.