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Local veterans speak on VA issues

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June 19, 2014

JANESVILLE—Local veterans are grateful for the health care they receive from the Veterans Administration, but many are unsatisfied with its lack of funding, shortage of staffing and shady practices, Veterans for Peace member Buzz Davis said.

“By law the VA (Veterans Health Administration) is supposed to take care of health problems of veterans who are injured or wounded or have problems,” Davis said at a Veterans for Peace press conference Thursday in downtown Janesville. “All those people are supposed to be taken care of by the VA.”

That's not exactly what's happening, according to a Veterans for Peace press release.

The majority of enrolled veterans are receiving treatment from the VA, but several thousand are being neglected, according to the press release.

That baffles Navy veteran Norman Aulabaugh, who lives in Orfordville.

“The cost to maintain one soldier for one year in Afghanistan is $1 million … but we can't seem to come up with money to support the veterans here in the United States who need help here,” he said. “On average, health care for a veteran costs about $6,800 a year.”

He and other members spoke in Madison and Janesville about their concerns regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 1993, the VA provided health care for 2 million veterans with a budget of $15.8 billion. Now, the VA has 8.8 million veterans and a budget of $59.1 billion, a shortage of more than $10 billion, according to the release.

Aulabaugh vocalized his opposition to privatizing the VA.

“Don't tell me that privatization is the answer,” he said. “Private medical facilities in the United States aren't … the experts on (post-traumatic stress disorder), and they aren't the experts on Gulf War syndrome. The VA is geared up to handle those things, and I think they're doing a very good job.”

Younger vets from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have a higher survival rate than World War II or Vietnam vets thanks to advanced medical technology. Still, mental and physical care for these veterans contribute to the large number of VA patients, which adds to understaffing and financial problems, Davis said.

A recent scandal has harmed the VA's reputation, too.

The VA is supposed to schedule an appointment for any inquiring veteran within 14 days. Recent reports show several departments circumvent this rule.

The average wait times in larger cities such as Los Angeles and Boston can reach more than 60 days, according to news reports.

Nearly 40 veterans died in Phoenix earlier this year because of withheld treatment, according to the Associated Press.

Davis said the VA doesn't tell veterans the dates of their treatments, and when the appointments pass, they falsify records by marking the veterans as no-shows.

This allows the organization's top managers to receive bonuses for timely treatment while postponing veterans' care, he said.

“It's a sick system,” he said.

Supervisors reportedly retaliated against several VA employees who came forward about the activity. The scandal forced Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down in May. The FBI now is investigating.

“The VA does have problems, and there are some changes that are needed,” Aulabaugh said.

“What I want to leave you with today is, for God's sake, we've got to stop these crazy, idiotic wars, and let's make veterans obsolete so we don't have to have things like Veterans Administrations,” Aulabaugh said.



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