PHOTO: A veteran's funeral courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense.
Between 2009-2011 at least 24 veterans died while they were on a waiting list for medical treatment. That's according to a report from the Veterans Administration.
But the truth is the cover up has run so deep, that we may never know exactly how many veterans have died while waiting for medical care. And how many more veterans will die because the VA medical care system failed to catch their illness in time? Speedy treatment is essential to save lives.
In mid-July about 35,000 veterans had waited at least 90 days for a first appointment. That's down from 57,000 in May, showing officials have finally begun to deal with the waitlist. However, a recent VA audit shows that tens of thousands of newly returning veterans will wait more than 90 days for care unless changes are made.
Congress has now passed a bill that will give the VA more resources. Yet veterans hospitals have needed more staff for years. If former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki --and American citizens--had been given the truth earlier, the problem would have been addressed. Deaths could have been avoided.
But a parade of senior officials has lied and covered up the true extent of the problems. Some lied for their own personal financial benefit. Others deleted medical records, meaning the truth may be lost forever. Some officials even received bonus payments for good service, when in reality, they were harming the veterans they are dedicated to serve.
Now Congress needs to move quickly to fill the vacant leadership appointments that have been held up for as long as two and three years. Playing politics with these appointments is unacceptable. The Veterans Administration needs its full roster of staff to do its job properly.
The FBI is investigating misconduct in the VA and says a full criminal case will be opened if warranted. We can't see any way a criminal prosecution would not be warranted. The fact that veterans died because of the actions --and the inaction -- of VA officials demands stronger penalties. Yes, four people have been fired, but surely somebody, or several somebodies, should go to jail.
VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald must ensure the culture of cover-up in the Veterans Administration can never return. And the Justice Department should find out whose lies led to the deaths and prosecute them. Those responsible should be held accountable and spend time in prison.