D-Day +2 Weeks. The sun would rise over the beaches of Normandy revealing over 4,000 Allied troops dead from the invasion. As France was liberated, many thousands more were wounded or missing – every day. The Veterans Administration was barely fourteen years old, but they were ready. Back then, they put the soldier first. They would welcome home those who fought for our country. The returning soldier was their top priority – back then.
Sadly, this is not true today.
Fast forward to 2010, Veterans Affairs employee Jed Fillingim admitted to police officials that he could not remember how many drinks he had the night he illegally used a government vehicle to “bar hop” at a Veteran’s conference in Dallas. The night Fillingim was drinking and driving, a female companion fell out of the vehicle and died from a severe head injury and a severed leg.
By the time a blood-alcohol test was taken, 7 hours after his last drink, Fillingim blew a .03, below the legal limit which saved him from a DUI charge.
Although supervisors recommended that Fillingim be fired, VA officials in Washington refused.
In 2017, an NBCWashington.com report confirms that as of January, Fillingim remained employed as a VA manager, making over six figures and has never been held accountable for his actions.
Fillingim’s recklessness is not an isolated case. The Wall Street Journal reported in November, 2014 that “more than 5,000 Department of Veterans Affairs employees are currently subject to disciplinary proposals with more than 40 of them (directly) related to patient care.”
General George Patton once said of his troops, “If you can’t get them to salute when you tell them to salute, or wear the clothes you tell them to wear, how can you get them to die for their country?”
In peacetime, this type of accountability seems extreme to civilians, but this is the very accountability our veterans themselves espoused to!
So one may ask, if the problem is known, why is there still a problem? Good question.
It’s obvious that the VA’s leadership won’t hold its employees accountable, because it can’t. The lack of accountability is the fatal flaw for which our veterans are paying the price (again!).
A major part of the problem is that the Veterans Affairs’ employees are shielded by unions. Senator Berry Sanders (I-VT) who was the then chairman of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee, refused to disband the Merit Systems Protection Board when lawmakers learned of the incompetence of senior executive in the infamous veteran wait-time scandal. (This appeals board settled a whopping 71% in favor of the employee who challenged their termination or disciplinary action.) At that time, Republicans caved under the pressure and retained the appeals board – once again not holding incompetent workers accountable, leaving our veterans to suffer. It is now more important to care for the union, than it is to care for the soldier.
Thankfully, under current Republican leadership, the frustration level has reached a tipping point. The House gave final approval on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, making it easier for the Secretary of the VA to fire or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct, and the President is expected to sign it.
While the bill has the support of the White House, VA Secretary David Shulkin and Republicans in Congress, it is receiving pushback from the Democrats under pressure from the unions.
The Veteran’s Administration is fatally flawed, literally. Inaction is no longer an option when it comes to serving those who served us.
The VA motto comes from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
We must demand immediate accountability, fix the VA and care for those who have borne the battle, and not kowtow to those who haven’t. It’s time to again put our veterans first.
United States Air Force Academy Graduate, 1988
Combat Pilot and Desert Storm Veteran
Father of two active duty Army soldiers
Life Member, VFW
Member, American Legion