The VA Mess

Our old buddy Dave in Texas went on a bit of a twitter rant yesterday.


And I can’t say I blame him.  The VA has always struggled to provide quality care for veterans. But the fact is, as Instapundit Glenn Reynolds notes, our modern civil service system, born out of disgust with the old spoils system, has simply transformed itself into a one-party spoils system.

The sprawling federal bureaucracy increasingly has come to see itself as beyond any oversight, not from the Congress, and to an extent, not from the White House.

Congressional staffers investigating allegations of wrongdoing at a Philadelphia VA office found themselves under surveillance and recording.

Congressional staffers investigating data falsification and whistleblower retaliation at the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Philadelphia were given a workspace there that was wired with activated audio microphones and video cameras, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said Monday.

Committee investigators also glimpsed a notebook used by the agency’s regional director that bore written instructions to ignore their requests for information, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said during a late-night hearing.

And if you think this issue of the bureaucracy serving its own interests first and foremost is limited to the VA, you’re naïve.

It is inevitable that any organization, even those explicitly founded to provide service to others, will eventually become one that serves itself, even at the expense of its constituency.

What starts as as cause becomes a business and devolves into a racket.

Mattis-Veterans aren’t Victims

Recently retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is probably the single most respected four star general of recent years, at least among the more junior members of the services. Why? Because he is blunt and direct. That forthrightness means you always understand where you stand with him. It inspires trust and respect. His letter to his Marines on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was certainly clear moral guidance:

And his plea to local Iraqi leaders in to embrace the chance at peace was an instant military classic:

So now, in retirement, GEN Mattis has a new mission- to remind veterans and the public, that “veteran” is not synonymous with “victim.”

Victimhood is somewhat en vogue in America today, with virtually every possible group claiming some sort of favored status by means of some injury or slight by the “other.”

But victimhood implies a helplessness, a lack of agency, and a lack of ability or means to improve ones situation.

And GEN Mattis isn’t having any of that.

In a speech last month, Mattis tackled a concern that is on the minds of a number of combat leaders: A public that wants to paint veterans as victims and why that is potentially damaging to the fighting spirit of America’s warriors.
“I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods,” Mattis said. “I don’t buy it.”
“If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it,” he said during questions after a speech at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco.

“While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks,” Mattis said.

That’s not to say that we as  a nation don’t have an obligation to provide care and services to our wounded warriors. That’s not to say that those veterans struggling with PTSD or other issues should not avail themselves of services, or the support of their peers and veterans associations. But it is a reminder to veterans that they hold the key to their future. The same drive and determination that made them successful in the service can carry them through the challenges they face in the society at large. It is a notice to the public that the oft portrayed deeply flawed veteran is a trope, a caricature, of the veteran. The fact is, looking back at historical precedent, veterans tend to be better educated, better paid, and generally more successful than their non-veteran peers.

CDR Salamander has, for a decade now, warned of the attempts by some in society to paint all veterans as victims of circumstances beyond their control, as children in need of the nannying care of the progressive government and culture, with no true free will to care for themselves or to make their own future. To say he’s a fan of GEN Mattis’ latest mission would be an understatement.

Mental Health and the 2nd Amendment

In many of the recent mass shooting events, we’ve learned that the perpetrators were mentally unstable, and should not have had legal access to firearms.  Immediately after every such shooting, gun control advocates call for more and more restrictions on the sale, possession and use of guns.  Pro 2nd Amendment people point out that denying the law abiding citizen his rights guaranteed under the Constitution does nothing to prevent such tragedy, and urge better mental health care.  Identifying the mentally unsound, and providing them with health care is seen as a proper way to minimize the risk to society.

The problem is, it necessarily falls to the government to define who is mentally unsound, either directly, or via health care providers reporting patients to the state.

In a preternatural example of tone-deafness, an administration under fire for snooping into Americans’ privacy is now proposing to waive federal privacy laws so psychiatrists can report their gun-owning patients to the government.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s “notice of proposed rule-making,” floated by the White House in a Friday media dump, would waive portions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to allow psychiatrists to report their patients to the FBI’s gun-ban blacklist (the NICS system) on the basis of confidential communications.

The 1968 Gun Control Act bans guns for anyone who is “adjudicated as a mental defective or … committed to a mental institution.” Unfortunately, under 2008 NICS Improvement Act, drafted by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and its regulations, that “adjudication” can be made by any “other lawful authority.” This means a diagnosis by a single psychiatrist in connection with a government program.

In the case of nearly 175,000 law-abiding veterans, the “lawful authority” has been a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, who, generally, will take away a veteran’s guns by unilaterally declaring him incompetent and appointing a guardian over his financial affairs. Certainly, the findings can be appealed, but most veterans don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars to hire lawyers and psychiatrists to do so.

The CGA of ‘68, as noted, says anyone adjudicated as a mental defective. And therein lies the problem.  To a layman such as myself, that word implies the involvement of a judge, in a courtroom, wherein the state must prove its contention, and the presumption of soundness rests with the individual.

And yet, somehow, we’ve found ourselves in a situation where now instead, rights of individuals are decided by bureaucrats and physicians (often Veterans Affairs doctors), with the presumption that their sole opinion is determinative. The burden of proof falls upon the individual.

The loss of soldiers and veterans to suicide has been a tragedy. The Army has made strenuous efforts to identify soldiers at risk, and help them to find the tools to cope.  Theoretically, this effort extends to the VA.

But VA doctors (and indeed, many private mental health care providers) have an incentive to err on the side of caution. There is no upside for them to not declare a patient competent. Further, should a provider have a bias against guns (something a patient is unlikely to know before securing their services), they may be ideologically motivated to declare a patient unfit.

Most alarmingly, it is hard to not suspect that the current administration sees this regulatory scheme more as a method of gun control than of providing mental health care.  What’s more, even the most casual observer of the news will note that the default assumption of the political Left is that any objection to their political goals is prima facie evidence of mental illness.  Indeed, the Soviet Union infamously used the “diagnosis” of mental illness to banish political opposition to care facilities, very often conveniently located in Siberia.

The tragedy is, there are veterans who desperately wish to avail themselves of care through the VA, but cannot trust their own government. The very government that handed them an automatic rifle is seen as far too willing to seize their private property, and indeed, their entire financial independence. These guardians of liberty are forced to risk their own lives, to live with the possibility they may choose suicide, or surrender the very liberty for which they fought. Ironically, a civilian with repeated episodes of odd behavior has far more ability to preserve his gun rights than a veteran.

Just because you’ve been discharged doesn’t mean you don’t still have a duty.

We’ve borrowed this most excellent letter from An Enlightened Soldier.

GEN “Skinny” Wainwright had the unenviable duty of surrendering US (and Philippine) forces in the Philippines to the Japanese in World War II. He endured the rest of the war in captivity. His sense of duty led him to believe he deserved court martial for failure to accomplish his mission and save his command. Instead, when the Japanese delegation boarded the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 to sign the articles of capitulation, GEN Wainwright stood by General of the Army MacArthur in a place of honor.

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His command to his soldiers then is every bit as valid today.

Old Habits Die Hard

On a subReddit thread, the topic was, what subtle habits from your service days have you carried over to your civilian life?

Do you still take your hat off whenever you go indoors? Do you feel nekkid without a hat outdoors.

How many of you wolf down your meal in less time than it takes everyone else to spread their napkin and reach for the salt and pepper?

Civilian readers, what habits tip you off that someone is a vet?

Are You a Veteran?

Stripping aside the partisan bickering, this little kerfuffle in Maine raises an interesting question- who is a veteran?

AUGUSTA, Maine — An ongoing feud over whether a Vietnam War-era National Guard member is qualified to serve on a state board has raised the question of who is a veteran.

Earlier this week, Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, questioned whether National Guard service during the early 1970s makes someone a military veteran.

Gov. Paul LePage, Republican lawmakers and members of Maine veterans organizations quickly expressed outrage that Gilbert raised the issue.

During a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday on Christopher Pierce’s nomination to serve on the Finance Authority of Maine’s board, Gilbert said that service in the National Guard during the early 1970s “was not considered qualification for veteran’s status.”

Mr. Pierce, nominated to serve on the board, apparently served honorably in the National Guard, but fails, through no fault of his own, to meet the criteria established by the federal VA to be defined as a veteran.  But the state criteria that calls for a veteran on the board doesn’t define who is or is not a veteran.

Offhandedly, I tend to think that if you’ve got a DD214 with an honorable discharge, you’re a veteran, even if you don’t qualify for federal benefits. But I see the point Mr. Gilbert is making, and while I’m sure he has a partisan purpose in opposing Mr. Pierce’s appointment, I don’t see that he has attacked Mr. Pierce’s service, but notes solely that it fails to meet the federal definition.

What say you?

Here’s a bit of free advice…

If you run a property management company, check your CCRs to make sure there isn’t a stupid rule against flying the American flag. Sure, you may have a legal leg to stand on, but you’ll only end up pissing off the entire community.

Joe Levangie-photo courtesy

There are roughly 24 million veterans in America today. And there’s another hundred million or so folks that think flying the American flag is generally a good thing. Why borrow trouble?