I don’t believe many of us annually pause to reflect on the meaning of the Memorial Day holiday while we spend the day with family and friends. We know it has something to do with remembering our veterans and often many of us confuse it with our other military commemoration, Veterans Day, the day we honor all of the men and women who served our country. However, Memorial Day is an occasion for specifically remembering those who died while serving their country in the armed forces, and on that day we pay our respects as a nation through parades, concerts, and graveside services.
While it is important that we honor those who made the greatest sacrifice and lost their lives on the field of battle, we must remember it is our duty to also treat our soldiers and their families with the same respect when they return home and are still alive.
Last month it was reported that VA administrators in at least 26 facilities systematically falsified records to conceal delays in treatment that resulted in the spread of infectious diseases as well as the preventable deaths of veterans. There are other instances of inadequate treatment and delayed access to care that have become the new battlefield for America’s returning service men and women. Treating close to 7 million veterans annually and with a $150 billion budget, the VA is the second largest federal department and runs the largest single healthcare system in the country. The Riverside/San Bernardino region also happens to be the home to one of the largest veterans’ populations in the country.
Several years ago, I was hired to lead the outreach effort for the team building the March LifeCare medical campus near March Air Reserve Base. During that time, I had the opportunity to speak to a number of veterans, military widows, and their families about their challenges when seeking medical care in Western Riverside County. With each conversation the same concerns emerged. They wanted care closer to home. Many complained about the long waits, delays, and inadequate care. And there was an increasing concern by the military wives and widows of older veterans, namely those who populate communities like Air Force Village West, that they may not be getting the best quality of care. Perhaps they were right, and if so, this is not acceptable.
“As we’ve been reminded in recent days – we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,” President Obama remarked at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. “These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours – now and for decades to come.”
So as we return to work today, instead of only pausing to reflect and remember those who died in battle abroad fighting for the freedom we enjoy and take for granted, let us also make sure that our returning service men and women do not have to battle for quality care, that they also fought for, when they return to our shores.