The Unasked Question in the Presidential Debate: Addressing the Crisis at the Veterans Administration

By Ed Timperlake

It is the goal of Second Line of Defense with the publication of this article to begin a series on the problems with the Veterans Administration.

It is hoped that visibility into VA problems by highlighting key challenges – including specific instances of corruption and malfeasance will inform the Presidential Debate.

Since Fox chose the participants for the first Republican debate, this article focuses on those individuals in that debate.

THIS is NOT a series to bash or take cheap shots at VA in fact just the opposite: it is past time to drive accountability and if necessary bring significant structural change to Title 38, for without such change, problems will not be resolved.

This is direct feedback from a combat disabled Vietnam Veteran who worked with President Reagan’s Vietnam Veteran Leadership Program and is a good statement of the issue:

“From personal experience I have seen the good and the bad at VAMCs and you are correct the good are really dedicated but the bad get away with no accountability!”

The Unasked Question During the First Republican Presidential Debate

“America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war: America is at the Mall”—Words written on a white board in combat very early in our never ending Middle East wars.

The first Fox Presidential 2016 debate is over so hopefully America can see the strengths and weakness of individuals who wish to become the next Commander-in-Chief of our country. Unfortunately, the ego driven moderators, Brent Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace did not live up to the trust and confidence they wished to instill in the process. The fact that many in the media are applauding their shallow, superficial and nasty lines of inquiry is testimony to the intellectual dry rot that passes for journalism today.

A simple news flash for the entire production crew of Fox News, the Republican Party is the Party of Lincoln. In his historic for the ages Second Inaugural Speech on March 4 1865, a month before his assassination on Good Friday April 14, 1865, he said the following-

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Of all the issues covered no one in the entire Fox Production Team thought of the 22 million American Veterans who are being ill served by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is true that no nation can ever repay the cost of a war but America has developed a support network as Lincoln said to care for the veteran, it is the DVA motto.

Now that safety net has been torn apart by a nasty greedy criminal element that has cheated and gamed the system for their own benefit.

As the first Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Congressional and Public Affairs, I entered a Cabinet Department with some of the most caring professionals I have ever met. They are the rule and allowing a relatively few criminals to go unpunished is an attack on them.

So why wasn’t there one question about the DVA?

It took an anonymous hero smarter and more perceptive that everyone at Fox to even mention veterans.  Megyn Kelly said as the debate was ending a woman came to the stage and wanted a question about what the candidates would do about veterans. Then in one of the more bizarre moments Megyn Kelly framed the issue about God and Veterans.

Let me help Fox–“What will you do as President to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs?”

The American Constitution has well defined roles for the three branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judicial, and together with a smart and knowledgeable 1st Amendment protected media the country has evolved a dynamic system of Constitutional Accountability.

The Legislative branch focusing on their contribution to accountability can hold oversight hearings under the threat of perjury to bring issues to light. The Executive Department can investigate and prosecute under the rules and guidance set by the courts. The media brings the sunlight of disinfectant to the entire process.

To bring accountability to The Department of Veterans Affairs it has to be understood that it operates within what is called “The Iron Triangle.”

This unofficial triad has historically been the DVA, in partnership with the Congress and the Veteran Service Organizations such as American Legion, DAV and others. Over time this group has evolved a simple formula; Money for DVA equals love support and respect for veterans. Money is always good but the formula also provides superficial cover for DVA bureaucrats, and legislators on both sides of the Hill and aisle. More money for DVA often drives VSO membership and also allows the media to call for budget remedies without real understanding of accountability first.

It is now time, even if Fox missed the opportunity, to ask what will the next President do to fix DVA?

The process is broken; the DVA leadership has totally failed in their mission. To be absolutely fair to President Obama he picked two individuals with exemplary credentials to be Secretary of his Cabinet Department, the Former Chief of Staff of the US Army, and his Under-Secretary for Benefits is an Air Force Academy Graduate General Officer. The fact they were and some still are leading an epic fail is not the Presidents fault.  Because, I suspect a Republican President could have chosen the same team.

However, what can be done now for accountability is still in President Obama’s hands.

Action to bring Constitutional accountability is simple. Currently with the failure of the VA IG team, to make meaningful cases and Congress doesn’t prosecute, it is time to bring in the FBI and get serious. If the FBI is dispatched to look into police departments after just one death it is long past time to bring the best law enforcement organization in the world to investigate a system that is allowing American Veterans die alone in the dark.

One other fact about the FBI there are many military veterans serving in FBI. The mission to clean up the DVA could be historic. The FBI in taking down bad elements in an entire Cabinet Department can ripple forward real accountability for generations to ensure lasting good government.

Republican Candidates could handle such a DVA investigation question very easily.  Governors know Executive Accountability, the two Doctors on the stage are gifted with insights about Medical Accountability, Senator Cruz was in both the Executive and Legislative Branch and appointed Solicitor General of Texas and also served in US DOJ and a potential President “Your Fired” Trump needs no help in understanding accountability.

Fox News should have taken the lead from Fox Sports on what it means to be a veteran and why an FBI investigation can be justified.

The words of the great Rocky Bleier looking back forty years to his Vietnam War experience of being wounded on the battlefield tells us all what it means to be in uniform:

“So there’s no color barrier, no class barrier. There’s no black, no white, no north, no south. You’re just you and your fellow soldier, and that is a bond that you always have.

No matter what the branch may be, there’s a respect for what a fellow soldier has gone through and is going through.”

An earlier version of this was published in “The Hill” newspaper on 12 August 2015.

Ed Timperlake was Assistant Secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs in President Bush’s ’41 Administration ( Senate Confirmed): 1989-1992

He built the first Congressional Affairs Office at the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), the first Public Affairs Office at DVA and the first Intergovernmental Affairs staff at DVA.

He was senior Government Officer in charge of medical mobilization of the Department of Veterans Affairs during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

And finally, he was Secretary Derwinski’s designated representative to address “Gulf War Illness” challenge.

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