5 February '97
1997 THE YEAR OF THE AMERICAN VETERAN
On the eve of President Clinton's inauguration I walked through New York City's Central Park to the Fox studio where I was a guest on a TV program discussing how well America cares for it's veterans.
It was a cold night, maybe 20 degrees, with a cutting wind. I came upon three men huddled together on a park bench. One said he was a Korean War vet, and the other two said they had fought in Vietnam. We talked. Their "war stories" checked out. They seemed the real thing, not the phony "We-served-in-the-war-ya-got-a-dime-for-a-disabled-vet type".
These three ex-grunts were part of the claimed half million homeless vets that live in the streets, the parks, beaches and hobo haunts from "sea to shining sea."
All three stoically accepted their fate and their only comment, delivered with wonderful GI humor, was "We should have moved south for the winter."
I was the only one who was outraged, particularly since I'd been hearing the inauguration extravaganza was to cost $37 million dollars. What if Clinton had skipped all the hoopla this time around and instead declared: "I proclaim 1997 as The Year of The Veteran."
Imagine the impact if he'd said " My administration is dedicated to all of those men and women who served our country. I've directed that all the money budgeted for my party be used to move homeless vets into former military bases, where they'll be provided with shelter, food, medical attention, counseling and job training."
"We as a grateful nation well realize that without their sacrifices we would not be free. It's only right that we do our best to restore their dignity and sense of worth."
If Clinton had more vets on his team, there would be more compassion for the plight of those who served and he might have taken such action. In the US civilian work force, 37 percent of the men over 35 are vets. Yet, in the Clinton White House, only 4 percent of the men have served in the military; and of the 828 Senate-confirmed power positions in his administration, only 19 percent of the men ever wore a military uniform.
While doing my homework for the show, I came to these conclusions:
* More vets must be installed in key spots in the Clinton's administration. Because vets have walked the walk, they understand what their vet brothers and sisters went through and what their needs are far better then those who took a less noble, easier path. Another bonus is that many would know about the horror of war and would be less eager to jump into killing fields where American troops should not be placed at risk.
* The Department of Veterans Affairs must be cleaned up. Most of our vets are frustrated and --for good reason-- have no faith in the system. In fact, it has no equal for incompetence even in a federal government whose bureaucratic departments are renowned for waste, duplication and ho-hum management. Most of the VA senior and middle managers from Washington DC to the Regional Centers to virtually every hospital in the land are brain dead obstructionists who are masters at making illogical decisions that hurt and hinder the very vets they're supposed to be helping. Many of these officials, besides being incompetent, are flat corrupt. They must be sacked. The VA needs a CEO, not a political appointee, who is a proven executive with a track record such as Lee Iacocca or Al Dunlap to take the broken system and quickly repair it.
* Establish a half dozen rehabilitation centers on closed military bases across the USA to care for homeless veterans. Here, the mission should be to scrub up the vets, get them back in shape through a tough love boot camp program and make them productive citizens again.
* Cancel the Presidents', his cabinet's and the congressional lawmaker's super VIP Medicare system, a scheme good enough for Kings. Require that they and their families use the VA hospitals and services in their home states.
Right now, many vets will only use a VA facility as a last resort. But if the high brass had to use the VA, this attitude would change mighty fast, along with the quality of care.