Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Veterans deserve better than party politics

Guest Perspective/Shawn Girard

A year ago today, my father passed away.

An uneducated, unskilled man who loved people, he complained about, but never lost faith in the country he had served with pride in the U.S. Navy. He was well liked, active in his community and in service to the disabled and elderly.

He died in a VA hospital, the same hospital system he had visited many times during the years of his declining health. There was a wonderful hospital a few miles from his home, but he had to ask friends and relatives to drive him, time and time again, an hour to Boston.

You see, elderly veterans in America who require care and are scraping by on a fixed and inadequate income cannot afford long-term treatment in a real hospital.

We didn’t know until a week before he died what was actually wrong with him. Years of treatment by different doctors investigated one problem after another, but never discovered the fatal lung disease which took his life. Overburdened case workers never had the time to advocate for better treatment.

I will never forget his last days: The empty corridors, darkened and unused spaces and unstaffed reception desks of a dingy hospital long past its prime. My terminally ill father waited in one of those empty halls for an hour, on a stretcher, outside over-crowded rooms. We searched in vain to locate someone, anyone, to take responsibility for his care. Our requests, and later, our days of phone calls led only to conflicting reports of his health and treatment, ever-shifting cycles of blame, voicemail or silence.

Later, among his belongings, we would find hundreds of pages of documents related to his health which he had requested. Perhaps he hoped to understand his illness or to be better equipped to communicate his problems to new specialists who seemed oblivious to his history. Maybe he was just hoping one of his friends or family members could help him write the correct person to expedite his case. We will never know. The documents arrived only a few days before his last hospitalization.

Four months later, when the story of the failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center became news, I was disgusted. The inadequacies of our Veteran’s Health Care System were no secret to anyone in Washington and to have the liars come forward, the President and Congress alike, to speak out about the grave injustice done to those who have served us, was the height of hypocrisy and the final straw for me.

These men and women, who we trusted to represent us, had robbed our nation’s coffers for years, of the funds needed to support our veterans. They had stolen that money and funneled it to special interest projects in their states to shore up support for reelection and line the pockets of their large donors. Few among them were innocent of this abuse and none of them were ignorant.

Nearly a year later, the tragic story of the VA has passed into memory for most. General Weightman has been fired, Francis Harvey has stepped down, but nothing has changed. These men were not responsible for the failures of Walter Reed or the hospital in which my father died. When you go to the polls in 2008, I hope you will think about who was.

Whether we elect a Democrat or a Republican as president, whether we send one, or the other, to Congress, we all lose if we continue to support the system, and the parties, that lie to us with a smile and protect the liars from accountability and justice.

Right now, hundreds of soldiers are returning from abroad with life altering injuries, trauma and a promise from a nation to repay their bravery and patriotism with our support. This obligation will cost billions upon billions of dollars and will not be a priority for Washington except during election cycles, or times of crisis.

I do not pretend to understand fully the reasons for our current unconstitutionally waged war. If anyone besides the President and his close advisors claim to understand, they are fools or liars. What I do understand is the enormous cost and obligation we have undertaken on behalf of hundreds of thousands of military personnel and their families.

Their children, their grandchildren will inherit these obligations. It won’t be the multinational corporations, defense contractors or politicians who pay. I hope history judges the reward equal to the expense of our foolish war.

Shawn Girard is a Loudon resident running as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. For more information about his campaign, go to

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