Spend on truly helping veterans not paid pomp

Two news stories recently have me scratching my head. We read in an Indianapolis newspaper Nov. 15 that the military paid professional sports teams a collective $9 million for what was termed “paid patriotism.”

USA Today reported that Veterans Affairs officials received $142 million in bonuses for 2014 performances. This will get more interesting later in this article.

So why am I concerned about this? I mean, besides the fact that more than $150 million was spent by military-related organizations on spurious programs.

I am one of the founders of Back Packs of Hope _ Greenfield. We provide backpacks with needed supplies to people who are homeless. You may already know veterans are heavily represented among the homeless population.

I also spent a couple of years working with the veterans program at Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center. I heard story after story of problems these veterans were having with receiving services at the local veterans hospital.

Before I go further, let me say I have met staff from that hospital. Most are dedicated to providing top-quality care to veterans. Most are overwhelmed by the lack of support they receive to do their jobs. And yet, most remain in their jobs for many years — not because they do not have the qualifications to go elsewhere, but because they believe in their mission. Many are veterans themselves.

I know nothing about the program that spent $9 million to pay professional sports teams to stage events touting the patriotism of one individual or another. They actually set up homecomings for returning veterans to return to their families in front of tens of thousands of strangers. All of this to promote patriotism to the American people.

This is propaganda at its lowest. Do the American people really need such public displays to know their military personnel are doing amazing and dangerous things? Apparently, someone thinks so.

Now, back to the Veterans Administration. Let’s look at some of the beneficiaries of these bonuses. One received a $9,000 bonus check months after it was concluded he was prescribing possibly dangerous doses of pain medicines. Three administrators, who oversaw a flawed construction project, received, combined, more than $20,000 in bonuses. Another staffer, whose mismanagement lead to the resignations of many of her staff, received almost $4,000.

Another staff person received a paltry $900, after driving a government-owned truck while drunk and having a co-worker fall out to his death. And last in this list is the administrator who oversaw a backlog of 8,200 pending benefits cases, received a bonus of more than $8,000. These individuals were in offices all over the country.

So let’s talk about the experiences veterans at the Indianapolis VA hospital have shared with me. First, let’s talk about the extremely long time it takes to get medical paperwork back from the local VA hospital. Due to insurance and other regulations, a veteran cannot participate in the program at Edelweiss until the medical paperwork is returned. This has taken weeks to months. And since Edelweiss does not have a year-round program, we may find a veteran having to wait until the following season to participate.

This means the veteran loses the chance to participate for a long period of time. This has led to problems with program sustainability, since it can be difficult to maintain a program when some members leave the program and others must wait due to paperwork challenges.

We have found that veterans, in order to engage them in the program, do better when they can be recruited by another rider or program staff and can start soon after. Even then, it can be difficult to maintain participation.

For me, it is a no-brainer what must be done with the $9 million spent on paid patriotism. It must go toward better pay for the average military staff person. If there is any left over, we must make certain every military person has all the equipment needed to be safe and effective.

Bonuses, in the public or private sector, must never be paid to someone who has exhibited poor performance or has done something illegal or immoral. And bonuses should never be paid for expected performance, but should be reserved for performance above and beyond the ordinary.

So what should be done with the expected excess when bonuses are more realistically assessed? Hire more staff to reduce wait times. Add programs, with adequate staff, that will improve outcomes for those receiving VA services.

Jim Matthews is a Greenfield resident. You may reach him at jem75@sbcglobal.net.