Our country observes November 11 as Veterans Day every year. This day, previously called Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I, morphed into a day to celebrate all of our nation’s veterans, and rightly so. They do a tough job and our country would be much different without them.
However, 2017 is different. This year, President Trump has signed a proclamation designating the entire month of November as National Veterans and Military Families Month.
With VA Secretary Shulkin looking on, President Trump signed the document that said in part:
“Our veterans are our heroes. Our Armed Forces have preserved the security and freedom that allow us to flourish as a Nation. They have braved bitter winters, treacherous jungles, barren deserts, and stormy waters to defend our Nation. They have left their families to face danger and uncertainty, and they have endured the wounds of war, all to protect our Nation's interests and ideals established during the Founding.”
And indeed they have.
At the signing, Secretary Shulkin told reporters that the VA would hold events every day during the month of November to highlight the progress that’s been made in reforming the VA, an entity that has been damaged since its inception.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs has significant issues that span back multiple decades and multiple administrations," Shulkin said."Our approach has been open to what those problems are," he added, noting the administration has sought "bipartisan" solutions to the agency's issues.
Some of the progress Shulkin points to include the creation of a veterans ID card program and the roll out of a 24-hour complaint hotline, one of President Trump’s many campaign promises. But recent events in the media prove that the agency and the Pentagon still have a long way to go to make things right with veterans and military families
Over the weekend, another mass shooting at a house of worship took place in a tiny Texas town called Sutherland Springs. It’s come to light that the shooter was a very troubled, dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran, who had previously escaped from a mental health facility before serving time in a Navy brig for domestic violence.
By law, this conviction, which saw him kicked out of the military, prohibits him from purchasing firearms. However, he was able to pass the background check required to purchase multiple weapons, as well as hold a job as a security guard because the Air Force never reported his domestic violence conviction. It is unclear if the VA had any part in the complicity. However, they would have been aware of his dishonorable discharge and the reason.
The VA has been in the press for other concerns recently as well.
Wait times and quality of care continue to be a problem within the VA health care system. Multiple VA facilities are still providing an appalling level of care to our nation’s veterans, and veteran suicides are still taking place at an alarmingly high rate, sometimes in rather high profile ways, such as outside of the same VA clinics that they could not get help at. For these veterans, Veterans and Military Families Month is too little, too late.
The ongoing budget problems the department is facing have been the most recent and most public problem for the department. Just last month, Secretary Shulkin was in front of Congress asking for more money after a budget extension failed to provide enough money to care for veterans medical costs.
While saying the country is going to honor its veterans and military families is great, these families are not easily fooled by flowery political speeches. They will be looking for real results, because after all, veterans' benefits are earned, and in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. They shouldn’t be subjected to conditions just as inhospitable at home.