Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


          We all know what Mayday means, right? Yes, it’s the international radio signal of distress for ships and planes. This is a term that most of you reading my column grew up hearing, and assumed it has been a part of the American English lexicon forever. Not so fast!

         Mayday actually came about in the 1920s. And it’s not English in origin. It’s French, from the word, “m’aider,” which means, help me! The entire expression in French is, “Venez m’aider,” meaning, “Come help me!” Bet you didn’t know that!

         Well, with events in our country and around the world seeming to be deteriorating at an alarming rate, I find myself thinking “Mayday!” a lot. But the event that really got me going here of late was the Veterans Administration in Phoenix. Here’s what CNN said as their opening paragraph of this breaking story. “At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.”

Wait! What?

         The article goes on to say, “For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far. Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.”

         I couldn’t believe that I was actually getting this story correct. The Phoenix VA intentionally withheld medical treatment for sick veterans! The obvious question is, “For what purpose?” Well, that’s what’s most disturbing in all of this. The Phoenix VA was scheduling veterans who needed treatment promising them an appointment. When the veteran would call to find out when their appointment was they would be told it was being scheduled and they’d get them soon. Instead, the policy at this VA was to “cook the books.” By taking down the name of a veteran who would be scheduled sometime in the future, it made the Phoenix VA appear to the big wigs in DC as being a smoothly operating facility meeting the needs of the veterans in need of medical treatment.

There is something between 1,200 and 1,400 veterans waiting to be seen in the Phoenix area. The way the VA administration in Phoenix gets around this is to have two lists for veterans. One is the official list which shows the veterans are being seen in a timely manner. The other is the real list, known as the hidden list. The official list has the name of the veteran but there’s no indication that he’d been waiting more than the 10-14 day period required. When the veteran came in for an appointment their name would be entered into the computer and then given a hard copy printout, but the information would never be saved on the computer. Their name would then go on another list for them to be contacted at some point in the distant future. Months might go by with no word from the VA. When the 10-14 day window opens, the veteran is contacted for the appointment, at which point the scheduling looks real good for the VA. As far as the official record goes, everything looks fine. If what I wrote about scheduling doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t make much sense to me either.

Now, I’d like to believe that this is a problem that has only occurred in the Phoenix VA. The head office in DC is supposed to be doing an investigation of all the VAs to make sure there is no more funny stuff going on.

Our veterans do not need to be made over because of their service for the country. In fact, most don’t think they did anything that noteworthy to begin with. Veterans do, however, expect that the government for whom they served would also keep their promises in providing them with appropriate healthcare, disability pay, and other agreed to compensations.

But I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised that our veterans are being poorly treated at times. For the last several years various politicians and high profile personalities have made disparaging comments about veterans. For instance, one politician called his opponent’s service as a colonel in the Army reserve in Iraq as not being a “real job – not demonstrating leadership.”

Kathleen Belew wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times suggesting, Veterans are dangerous, violent people that society should be weary of.” She has a particular distaste for Vietnam Vets apparently. She claims “the return of [Veterans] from combat appears to correlate more closely with [Ku Klux] Klan membership than any other historical factor.” She then linked the murder of three innocent people in Kansas by one man to a generation of Vietnam Veterans.

HBO Talk show host Bill Maher had this to say about the Greatest Generation wanting to visit their newly opened World War II museum accompanied by Republican Michele Bachmann. They’re the greatest generation – nobody said they were the brightest generation.”

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has shown she doesn’t think much of veterans. Barack Obama's Secretary of the DHS is stubbornly refusing to apologize to our nation's veterans for issuing a DHS intelligence assessment which disparages veterans as possible terrorist threats.” I wrote about this in an article a couple of years ago. It was written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with the continued denigration of our military I’m taking these comments a whole lot more seriously.

Our TSA at the Sacramento Airport just last summer totally dishonored a Marine veteran of Iraq who was severely wounded. He was on his way to be honored as Veteran of the Year at the state capital, but not until the TSA shamefully treated him first. Wearing his Marine Dress Blues, he was sent through the body screener where he was asked to raise his arms up over his head. Due to injuries which nearly killed him in Fallujah, he was incapable of raising his right arm much above chest level. The agents poked and prodded his injured right arm, ran their hands under his rack of medals, swabbed his shoes (for explosive contaminants), and made him take off his uniform because it had too much medal! Is there an apology forthcoming from these TSA agents? Don’t hold your breath.

We have lost our minds! This is why I want to scream, Mayday!

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