Memorial Day is almost here and what a long strange ride 2014 has been.
The Senate committee hearing testimony of Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, has concluded. Shinseki was called in after CNN investigated the 40 preventable deaths at the Veterans Administration health center in Phoenix due to delays in doctor appointments.
Then, the American Legion called for Shinseki to be fired, stating that the dead Phoenix veterans were victims of a cover-up. "Their names were reportedly kept on a so-called 'secret list' that misrepresented the hospital's performance on patient waiting times. This report is the most recent in a succession of preventable death allegations at VA facilities nationwide. In some cases, facility executive leaders received year-end performance bonuses despite the preventable deaths, and now the issue has boiled to the top of the nation's conscience."
The Vietnam generation was slow to warm up to the American Legion, whose officers wear funny red garrison caps with displays of insignia and rank, but on Aug. 2, 1990, the American Legion filed a lawsuit against the federal government "for failure to conduct a Congress-mandated study about the effects of Agent Orange on veterans who served in Vietnam."
The result is this: If a Vietnam vet has ischemic heart disease, diabetes or one of the other recognized Agent Orange conditions, the VA will presume that the condition was caused by Agent Orange exposure. The VA has an expedited process for those claims. The vet can file with the VA for benefits today and then wait a minimum of 18 months for a decision.
Your tax dollars at work. No surprise the American Legion spoke at last week's Senate committee hearing.
During the hearing, Shinseki and his supporters distinguished between mere "access issues" and "quality of care." They argued that VA medical care is wonderful, once the vet gets access, and that all big hospitals have some problems. Nothing is perfect.
One witness referenced deaths from unsanitary colonoscopy equipment.
The quote of the day was from Shinseki. He said that he was "mad as hell" about the allegations.
After the hearing, Shinseki's supporters rushed to the media with their talking point. "The secretary said he's 'mad as hell.' Didn't you hear him say he's mad as hell? He cares about vets."
Shinseki did say he was "mad as hell," but with no emotion and a flat affect.
Shinseki said he will defer to the VA Inspector General, whose report should be out in three months...or so...
He needs all the facts.
Maybe this will help: Just before the hearing started, IAVA and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) launched a new website to protect VA staff who come forward with information. The website is VAoversight.org. POGO (http://www.pogo.org) is a watchdog organization that exposes corruption in government agencies. One of their cases was the cancer cluster at Camp Lejeune.
Which brings us back to Memorial Day in La Cañada. There are names on the wall at La Cañada's Memorial Park. The names of men and women who gave their lives for our nation.
On Memorial Day, some (but not all) local veterans come to the service. The service is held before the parade. It is not as well attended as the parade or the afternoon events.
Memorial Day in La Cañada is a fun day for the 99 percent.
It's a tough day for the one percent who have served.
Our nation has been at war since 2002. This is the longest war in our nation's history. It's OK to have fun on Memorial Day, but let's also take care of our veterans.
--ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.