Profiles in courage are not just found on the battlefield during war. All too often, the uncomplaining, silent endurance during pain, suffering and neglect of America’s veterans who were promised medical care and support by our Department of Veterans Affairs is another unremarked and underreported profile in courage.
Marine combat veteran from the Iraq war, Kurt Lofquist, will tell the Freedom Leadership Conference tomorrow in northern Virginia, that he and his fellow neglected soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have been waiting for the Obama Administration to hold accountable the officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs for what sounds to this writer like criminal neglect of suffering veterans, is not something they should wait on for civilians to fix. The advance draft I’ve been privileged to see, rejects the idea that military veterans should act as victims because “in uniform or out of it, we were the ones strong enough to defend our country, and we are strong enough now to defend ourselves.”
Lofquist, first came to public attention with a video he appeared in over one year ago criticizing the Obama Administration’s handling of the war in Iraq where he had served in combat. More recently, Lofquist’s Concerned Veterans for America has begun airing an internet video called “Zero” which describes the lack of accountability from the Obama VA in the care of military veterans, one year after the “Waiting List” scandal story broke.
Kurt is now the Virginia State Director of Concerned Veterans for America, which is sponsoring tomorrow’s conference at the Hilton Garden Inn at Fair Lakes, Virginia and he aims to use the opportunity to rally veterans and those who will support them against what he calls the Obama Administration’s handling of the long waiting list for veterans needing care as a “culture of deceit, of cooking the books, of putting the department’s needs first instead of the veteran’s needs.”
It has now been over one year since the news media’s discovery that there were actually two sets of records kept by many hospitals which were part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly called “the VA” (it used to be the Veterans Administration).
During that year, the GOP controlled Congress has increased the VA budget by $16 million dollars, despite which, the number of veterans waiting 90 days or more for medical care has nearly doubled.
But during this period, no one has been fired for hiding the truth but in fact, several of the whistleblowers who helped reveal what sounds like criminal wrongdoing to this writer, were the only ones punished – ordered to stop caring for the veterans they had been helping, and to be put on administrative leave as their reward for telling the truth and trying to help veterans.
“’What the hell’ is the exclamation from Congressman [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ], the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to describe his feelings about this scandal. Last week he said “Just one person has been fired. One,” said Boehner in a House floor speech, continuing, “What the hell happened to the rest of them?” (source: Freedom Leadership Conference).
While this writer is in general agreement with the criticisms made against Speaker Boehner for the number of times he has not stood up for conservative principles and has even punished GOP Congressmen who have stood up for our principles, we do appreciate his speaking out on this scandal as he has.
The Conference website, based on reports from its two sponsors for the upcoming conference, reports that Boehner is so frustrated because at least 110 VA facilities “have been found to have kept secret wait lists to manipulate and cover up their actual, longer wait lists.” That’s what would be a criminal offense if a private company did the same thing the IRS would send a criminal referral over to the Department of Justice.
“A spokesman for Uniformed Services League (USL) observed that ‘if a taxpayer running a small business were to do the same thing – keep two sets of books – the IRS would turn them over for criminal prosecution, not just impose the correct tax when they found the truth.’” (source: ibid; note, USL is the second sponsor of tomorrow’s conference in Northern Virginia).
Only the Obama Administration can change the culture from within” said Speaker Boehner in his floor remarks, which will be echoed tomorrow by principal speaker Kurt Lofquist at the Freedom Leadership Conference.
The second principal speaker at tomorrow’s conference, Dr. Johnny Simpson, has worked with veterans fighting the Obama VA to obtain medical care. Speaking in behalf of the other conference sponsor, Uniformed Services League, Dr. Simpson plans to tell the audience about several of the veterans who with his help continue their fight to obtain ‘the promises made to those who wore the uniform of our country.”
Simpson will bluntly tell his audience the shocking news: the promises made by the American people to care for those who serve our country in uniform, are simply not being kept.
Simpson has his own stories about how difficult it is to get the care promised to veterans out of the VA. After his U.S. Army service he was paralyzed from the waist down but then was ‘forced to fight the VA for years to get the care promised to me and all veterans.”
As a gulf war veteran he says that he learned if you don’t claim your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder benefits within the first two years of departing the military then VA will simply reject your claim and turn their back on you, despite your service. To America.”
Dr. Simpson will report in more detail tomorrow the case of Rick Thomas Tuff, Donjuan Williams and Andrea (last name withheld) – three of the more than 600,000 veterans waiting and waiting on the VA hospital system for the medical care they were promised when they served in the U.S. military.
Dr. Simpson will tell the audience at tomorrow’s conference that “Veterans with severe and even life threatening medical problems have been given the run around. Many have died waiting for the promised medical services. Others hang on to life, have suffered from illness with insufficient or even no medical care.”
It is wonderful that Speaker John Boehner is so angry about this issue but the question is, will the Senate and the House stay focused on solving this problem and standing up to the “Culture of Deceit” that covers this up and hopes people will simply ignore this issue?
Both organizations sponsoring the Wednesday nite Freedom Leadership Conference – Concerned Veterans for America and Uniformed Services League – strongly support passage of “The VA Accountability Act, introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, Congressman [mc_name name=’Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001144′ ], to empower the VA secretary to quickly remove any VA employee (not just senior executives) for misconduct or poor performance while also protecting whistleblowers, such s those punished for speaking out about this one year old, still unresolved scandal.
Pete Hegseth, the CVA Chief Executive Officer, explained their new movie and why they are sponsoring tomorrow’s conference and continuing their efforts: ““One year after the VA wait list scandal first came to light, zero people have been fired for manipulating patient wait time data at VA hospitals. It is almost universally recognized that the Department of Veterans Affairs has an infected, toxic culture, but if there is no accountability or consequence for misconduct, that culture is never going to change, and veterans aren’t going to get the timely, quality medical care they earned and deserve” without further action by the Congress.
Most of us have heard the epic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” It celebrates and recognizes the gallantry and heroism of soldiers who follow their orders and put their lives on the line for their country.
The poem has special significance for warriors who have returned from battle – like Kurt Lofquist:
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Canon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.
The poem celebrated by millions of English schoolchildren and many in America as well, celebrates how they “plunged in the battery smoke Right thro’ the line they broke” but then ominously explains the price paid as “they rode back, but not … Not the six hundred” who in their retreat were “storm’d at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell,” and in words eerily prescient for today’s combat veterans exclaimed as the poem comes to its end, “They that had fought so well, came thro’ the jews of Death, Back from the mouth of Hell, all that was left of them, Left of six hundred.”
Now it is a fact that both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, salute those who have served our country in uniform, as poet Tenyson concluded in his epic poem, “Honor the charge they made, Honor the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred.”
But what about those veterans who survived the ravages of war and their time in the service, how are they taken care of afterwards, how is the debt paid aside from a parade during Memorial Day or July 4th each year? Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem is as silent on this score, as the Obama White House is today.
As it turns out, the less known poem about the Light Brigade was written nearly half a century later, in recognition of the plight of those survivors of the Light Brigade who were getting no help from any source, even as schoolchildren of their day proudly and patriotically recited the uplifting stanzas from The Charge of The Light Brigade. British Army pensions and medical care in the nineteenth century left a lot to be desired. Things have improved today but, both then and now, untreated wounds and suffering left the veterans who put their lives on the line, who went “Into the mouth of hell” for their country, high and dry and bereft of the help and support they thought they had been promised.
The dire circumstances of abandoned veterans, then and now, inspired Rudyard Kipling to write this. I conclude this article hoping it will inspire my fellow non-veterans to stand up now and demand Congress take action to force accountability on the Obama VA.
The Last of the Light Brigade
There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.
They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!
They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”
They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.
They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.
The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
“You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’, we thought we’d call an’ tell.
“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”
The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.
O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made-“
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!
Rudyard Kipling’s new poem, The Last of the Light Brigade, continued the story begun by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s original from 50 years earlier, The Charge of the Light Brigade. While never becoming as famous as the original, the Kipling’s new work did shame his country into doing better for the survivors of the actual “Charge of the Light Brigade.”
How about today? Is it possible a reading of this poem by more and more concerned Americans, might inspire them to put pressure on Congress to pass the VA Accountability Act and any other legislation needed to take care of our veterans so that we as a country do not shame ourselves by continuing to ignore them as they “depart, limping, lean and forlorn”?
I most certainly do understand how Kurt Lofquist and his Concerned Veterans for America have no intention of letting anyone treat them as victims, but intend to face the future with the same strength and courage they exhibited on the battlefield. But this issue is not just about them and how they feel.
It is about us, the American people, and whether or not we will honor the promise we made that in return for their service, we will provide our military sons and daughters the medical care and support they need when their fight is over and their uniform is set aside. The shame is not nor will it ever be theirs. If we fail to act and to force the politicians to hold the Obama VA accountability, then the shame will be ours.
It is my prayer that those who read these words and who attend tomorrow’s Freedom Leadership Conference, who hear the words of the two speakers there or later at the conference website, will stand up and “sweep the land like flame.
(free tickets to the first 30 who use this link; suggested $5 donation at the door if you use the link too late; discount dinner tickets are already sold out and only a limited number of regular price dinner tickets remain available).
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