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There's a Plan to Reform the VA (Sort Of). Now What?

Congress has finally passed a VA reform bill. But does it deal with the real problems?

U.S. Navy, Lt. Commander (Ret.) Michael Young, of Bellefonte, Pa., bows his head during a Veterans Day ceremony outside the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa., Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. Americans are commemorating the service and sacrifice of military service members this Veterans Day. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Nabil K. Mark) MAGS OUT MANDATORY CREDIT

Perhaps one of the more eclectic Disney movies outside of "Fantasia" is "Alice in Wonderland:"

“If I had a world of my own,” Alice sighs, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”

In other words, a world of complete opposites; a world turned entirely upside-down.

Have any words more truly described the state of affairs in which we find our country?

In a sane world, evil is punished and right is rewarded.

[sharequote align="center"]Demand the rot in the VA administration be removed, and provisions be put in place to keep it out[/sharequote]

Instead, we give guns to cartel members, negotiate with terrorists, target our political enemies, and welcome lawbreakers. We ignore our own people’s needs, allow a hero to rot in a Mexican prison, and give money to the terrorist enemy of our ally.

We’re living in Alice’s Wonderland, but as Alice discovered - there’s nothing terribly wonderful about Wonderland. Like Alice, we’re living in a land of horrible opposites.

How much confidence - if any - can we really have in our leadership to fix problems?

Consider the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal; a situation that the president once called “disgraceful,” and that “anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities has to be held accountable.” Yet, to date, the director of the VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona, where 40 veterans perished as a result of this misconduct, remains on the payroll.

We’ve now got a VA reform bill meant to clean up the scandal. Finally. But does it pack any sort of serious punch?

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: Acting Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson testifies during a hearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee July 24, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on on 'Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.' Alex Wong/Getty Images Acting Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson testifies during a hearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee July 24, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on on 'Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.' Alex Wong/Getty Images

Consider the following: with this bill, actions to exact severe consequences on those responsible have been virtually quelled, and the VA faces a mere 10 percent reduction off the per-year bonus cap - meaning, they'll all still get bonuses, but going forward they will come from a $360 million per year pool, versus $400 million. What’s more, the Senate version of the bill weakened the authority it would have given the VA secretary to “immediately fire any VA employees for misconduct.”

In other words, it’s going to be business as usual amongst leadership at the VA.

This reform bill that doesn’t deal with the real problem: people who are willing to falsify records to save their own hides, and in some cases, collect more bonuses. This is also a culture, mind you, that not only rewards liars, but disciplines whistleblowers.

Undeniably, there are positive things about the bill. After all, it authorizes spending for new employee hiring, requires more facilities - 27, to be exact - to open, and expands resources for military spouses who lost their service member.

HINES, IL - MAY 30: A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois. Hines, which is located in suburban Chicago, has been linked to allegations that administrators kept secret waiting lists at Veterans Administration hospitals so hospital executives could collect bonuses linked to meeting standards for rapid treatment. Today, as the scandal continued to grow, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized in public and then resigned from his post. Scott Olson/Getty Images A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

The fact of the matter is simple: This reform bill could promise every veteran access to the best care on planet earth, but with the very same people at the administrative helm, it will ultimately make no difference. Indeed, there are provisions for regular audits to take place to measure “accuracy of care and staffing levels at each major medical facility,” but again, if the very same bill doesn’t exact punishment on those responsible for this original crisis, and doesn’t pave the way for immediate firing of bad employees, how much power does that audit really have?

We can throw more money at the problem all day long, but as CNN’s Drew Griffen points out, “Money has not been a problem at the VA; in fact the Department of Veterans Affairs has gotten just about every dime it has asked for over the last several years. This was and remains a management problem, and how the money has been mismanaged.”

To be certain, we need to ensure that our veterans have access to state-of-the-art equipment, and sufficient staff - as this bill supposedly provides, but these additions in this situation is no different than placing a brand new exterior on a decades-old rust bucket of a car. It is, to use the old adage, “putting lipstick on a pig.”

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 30: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki waves goodbye after addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Shinseki is under bipartisan pressure to resign in the wake of an unfolding scandal following a report by the inspector general's office. Win McNamee/Getty Images  Former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned following a ballooning scandal where veterans hospitals fabricated appointment schedules and wait times. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Just how much longer are we going to make our heroes wait for the justice and the care that they so absolutely deserve?

I once heard of a story about a teacher who decided to teach her students an important lesson. As her teenage students filed in early one morning, they were surprised to find that their desks had all been removed.

Befuddled, the students all began to ask as to their whereabouts.

“When you can tell me how one earns the right to sit in those desks,” she said, “you can have them back.”

Try as they might, not one student could answer correctly.

Finally, the teacher walked pensively towards the door, slowly opening it and allowing in a stream of people. Holding each desk was a soldier. One by one, they sat the desks down in the silent room.

“They earned your desks,” the teacher told the students, “It’s thanks to them that you’re sitting freely in them.”

I certainly hope this story is true - but even if not, its principle remains unchanged: Our soldiers fought, bled, and in many cases watched their fellow soldiers die - so that we didn't have to.

With the news of this reform bill, don’t sit back and relax just because something was finally passed. Demand that the rot that fills the ranks of the VA administration be systematically removed, and provisions be put in place to keep it out permanently.

Don’t our heroes deserve at least that?

Mary Ramirez is a full time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com - a political commentary blog, and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show. She can be reached at: afuturefree@aol.com; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree

Feature Photo:  (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Nabil K. Mark)

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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