In Office Since January 2010

Dave Speaks at Washougal Memorial Day Ceremony 26 MAY 2014

26 May 2014

My thanks to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars for hosting this patriotic event today.

I have been privileged for the past five years to deliver this brief address here in memory of those who sacrificed to preserve our freedom and our unique form of government based on God-given rights. This is an emotional event. It resurrects some memories better forgotten, but it also puts life itself into perspective.

For those of us who endured combat, it raises the question of why we survived when others did not. The very fickleness of fate inspires a strengthening of our faith in God, if for no other reason than to find an answer to the question – why me? – and to express our gratitude. Combat experience is humbling.

But the greatest benefit of these patriotic events is that they bring us together with others who have had similar experiences. We know each other intuitively in the crowd – there is something in the eyes, the posture, the walk – the waistlines – that identifies us to each other. Warriors are drawn together by their shared background and love of country – as are all of us here today.

I will draw today on remarks by former presidents who identified principles that Americans have fought to preserve for over two hundred years. It is in defense of these principles that our youth have given that last full measure of devotion by laying down their lives to preserve freedom.

George Washington, in his farewell address, warned against foreign entanglements. His advice guided US presidents from 1796 until 1947 when Harry Truman committed Americans to “…support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.”

It is for this noble purpose that our youth venture onto foreign shores. History is replete with examples of international aggression not countered that eventually evolved into a threat to the freedom of others. Recent history is no exception.

While some of our youthful warriors who responded to such aggression gave all, all gave something to the cause. Many returned home bearing the physical and emotional scars of combat. It is about our obligation to these warriors – our warriors – that I wish to speak this morning.

Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, established the principle of caring for those who have borne the burden of battle.

And when today’s warriors return home wounded or injured, how well do we adhere to Lincoln’s principle of caring for those who have borne the burden of battle on our behalf?

For more than a decade – not well! The recent Department of Veterans’ Affairs scandals demonstrate conclusively a flagrant, and long-standing, lack of concern for our returning warriors. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay get better care than our own wounded warriors. The ratio of prisoners to doctors at Guantanamo is 1.5 prisoners to one doctor. In the VA Hospital System, there are 35 patients for every doctor. That our wounded should die awaiting treatment is inexcusable. That their treatment should be second priority behind our enemies is a national disgrace!

Current attempts to improve on the incredibly poor performance of the VA Hospital System are not only wholly inadequate, they are misdirected! Inspector General Investigations, Congressional hearings, and White House statements are not going to solve the problem.

The number of VA hospitals involved in the scandal suggests an organizational culture that is not only unsupportive of the welfare of our veterans, it is counter to it! That is the problem!

As one with a doctorate in organization and leadership, I know that such problems cannot be solved by tinkering around the edges of the organization. Change begins at the top. And it is at the top that we must begin.

The American Legion and other veterans’ organizations have called for the replacement of the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Eric Shinseki. That would be an excellent beginning.

General Shinseki is an honorable man with a history of long and valorous service to his country. He was both Airborne and Ranger qualified, awarded the Bronze Star for valor, and twice wounded. He rose to four star rank, becoming Army Chief of Staff.

His past performance notwithstanding, General Shinseki has had five years to solve the problems identified in 2008 by President Obama, and has been unable to make sufficient progress to keep increasing numbers of our vets from dying while awaiting treatment. It is time for new blood at the top. But we can’t stop there!
The new Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs must have the authority to change the VA culture that embraces lying to cover up bad results. That means firing people who are willing to lie to conceal their inability to do their job and protect similarly incompetent subordinates. A thorough housecleaning is needed! The good news is that we have VA employees who are risking their livelihood to expose this chicanery!

While we’re at it, let’s solve the VA’s other big problem – tooth to tail ratio – the number of care givers versus the administrative staff.

Like many federal government organizations, the VA has an overly large administrative overhead. Some of these highly compensated executives are political appointees whose contributions to the mission are dubious. We can no longer afford political patronage. Many other VA employees have jobs that do not contribute directly to the primary mission of caring for the troops. Overly protective civil service rules need revision to empower the new Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to do a thorough restructuring.

But all of this activity starts with action from the head of the Executive Branch! How did former presidents handle such situations?

When faced with the Iran-Contra Scandal in 1987, Ronald Regan took responsibility. He said:
“…I take full responsibility for my own actions and those of my administration….As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I’m still the one who must answer to the American people for this behavior….as the Navy would say, this happened on my watch.”

Contrast that with the finger pointing that characterizes reactions in Washington, D.C. today. The president blames Congress for insufficient funding, Congress criticizes Administration performance. Neither is taking meaningful action.

Congress is talking about holding hearings, while the President is awaiting the results of an Inspector General report. Hearings on something as complex as the VA Hospital System take time and seldom result in meaningful action. They are more about fixing blame than fixing the problem. The Inspector General report is unlikely to tell the President much that previous IG reports in 2005, 2007, and 2012 didn’t already report. Meanwhile, the VA is paying performance bonuses to executives who helped cover up this mess. Your taxes at work! It is time for a change!

The good news is that although change begins at the top, it can be inspired from the ranks. But it takes work!

I urge all of you to communicate to our elected representatives in both the legislative and executive branches the need to (1) recognize the scope of this problem, (2) assume responsibility for the situation, and (3) do whatever it takes to ensure that our courageous troops who survived the battlefield do not return home to die of neglect while awaiting medical treatment.

The message to Congress and the President is a simple one – get off your collective backsides and fix this problem!

And if you can’t fix it, then disband the VA Hospital System and give veterans vouchers for private health care coverage.

Your current inaction is a failure of your responsibility to those who elected you, a violation of your oath of office, and travesty against those who have served in the forces that guard their country.

If you can’t solve this problem, you don’t deserve the office you hold, and we don’t need you. The American voter is tired of excuses, dithering, and blathering. Get it done! Be effective or be gone!

Thank you for inviting an old soldier here today to your celebration of those who serve in the forces that guard our country – and those who hold them dear. May God grant them the recognition and care they so richly deserve, in this life and the next.

And may He grant all of you fair skies and a following wind as you navigate this life.