Earlier this week, our president, the “commander-in-chief” of our Armed Forces finally addressed the American people about the Veterans Administration’s shameful treatment of the nation’s veterans.
As I listened to his comments, I recalled an observation made by a Roman commentator in about 378 A.D. In a work called “Military Institutions of the Romans,” Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote: “A commander-in-chief therefore, whose power and dignity are so great and to whose fidelity and bravery the fortunes of his countrymen, the defense of their cities, the lives of the soldiers and the glory of the state, are entrusted, should not only consult the good of the Army in general, but extend his care to every private soldier in it. For when any misfortune happens to those under his command they are considered as public losses and imputed entirely to his misconduct.”
For our purposes, let’s not dwell on President Obama’s, “power, dignity, fidelity and bravery.” Let’s not slow down to discuss “the fortunes of his countrymen.” Let’s leave, for another time, consideration of the situation regarding “the good of the Army in general,” and “the glory of the state.” Let’s focus, instead, on the president’s responsibility “to every private soldier” and whether the misfortune that has befallen thousands of veterans may be imputed to his misconduct.
There’s no need to catalog the outrages that recently have come to light. Highlights will do for our purposes. Historically, we know the Veterans Administration has been a bureaucratic nightmare for veterans needing medical care. We know thousands of our veterans were forced to endure long and completely inexcusable delays as they waited for doctors’ appointments or needed medical tests. We know that in thousands of instances, when veterans were finally able to receive care, the quality of the services they received was substandard.
We know our presidents and their secretaries in charge of Veterans Affairs always pay convincing lipservice to their determination to reduce red tape, speed up access to needed treatments and improve the quality of care. We now know that for years these skillfully delivered promises have been so much hogwash.
What we did not know was that many care providers in the Veterans Administration system were manipulating the statistics in a shameful scheme to conceal the truth and cash in on their deceit. We now know that some of these ruthless, cynical “servants of the bureaucracy” were actually constructing phony data calculated to conceal the ugly facts about the outrageously poor level of care they were delivering.
What we did not know was that some of our brave veterans, having survived the rigors of the battlefield, may have lost their lives at home due to the uncaring misbehavior of federal bureaucrats.
Many of us who are acutely aware of the great debt we owe these men and women are struggling to contain an overwhelming sense of rage and sorrow. It’s hard not to direct some of this fury toward the White House. After all, one of the boasts this president stated at his news conference was how he made the welfare of America’s veterans one of the causes of his presidency. We cannot help but wonder if he had been as intent on reshaping the Veterans’ Administration as he was in hobbling the American economy with the health care act whether there might have been some real beneficial change for the better. All we know for sure is that he wasn’t keeping a very attentive eye on the situation. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so stunned when the scandal made the news.
Perhaps Renatus overstated his case. Of course, not every misfortune that befalls the soldier can be laid at the feet at the commander-in-chief. But if there is a massive screw-up that’s been developing for years and snowballs into a crisis; if the ultimate crises has been signaled by a host of alarm bells ringing over time; and if loyal service men and women endure needless torment and possibly death because the commander-in-chief was AWOL, it is the commander who must answer for the misfortune.
Unfortunately, if the commander we’ve appointed to the post is not up to the job, there’s nothing we can do about it until his term has expired. We can register our outrage, demand action, howl at the moon — whatever. But Lord help us if we don’t learn from our mistakes. If we are content to select our commander-in-chief on the strength of factors other than his (or her) ability to get the job done, we have no one but ourselves to blame if the post is filled by a cardboard cut-out. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.