At the end of his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln concluded his speech with the following statement:
“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.”
While I realize that in Alabama on the 4th of July Lincoln’s words could evoke any manner of responses, there is one phrase here that needs to be explored in light of recent disclosures about the deadly chaos in VA hospitals. In addition, the phrase must be respected, regardless of what happened or was said in 1865. This is because the words are still true, whether anyone can agree upon what they meant at the time they were spoken. The Veterans’ Administration adopted from the Address this phrase as its motto: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
Government involvement in caring for our veterans who have been involved in protecting us goes back to the 1630s, before we were even a fledgling nation. How it was done evolved through the centuries, and I remember references being made to “Old Soldiers’ Homes” when I was a kid. Here in Athens, we have men and women who are solidly behind our veterans and are part of the VA system, working to take care of wounds, seen and unseen. I have no desire to offend those who are valiantly endeavoring to care for our vets while they are possibly feeling they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, nor do I wish to paint with a brush that is too wide.
However, if we are going to be worthy of their sacrifice, if we are going to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to our nation under God during this 4th of July holiday, we need to both insist upon accountability and take action “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace,” with specific reference to the “peace” that comes as a result of receiving high quality medical care in a timely manner. Government has its place, but this part of the system has fallen apart, and people are dead as a result. We now have proof that VA Hospitals have been the sites of death and delinquency, and it has to stop.
US Congressman Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is retiring soon, and has compiled a scathing report released last week that is reminiscent of the “muckrakers” of a century ago. (The muckrakers were journalists who blew the whistle on a number of intolerable and scandalous activities in our country, and prefigured what we have come to know as investigative journalism.) Here are some of his findings:
“Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance, and the VA has paid out nearly $1 billion to veterans and their families for its medical malpractice.”
We can get, as my husband calls it, “all feffered up,” wring our hands and do nothing, or we can fight for our vets. How? First of all, stay on your local, state, and federal officials and hold them accountable while they call for accountability wherever it is needed. There is something else you can do, and that is just to “be there” for a vet. Vets don’t want pity, and they don’t want to be adopted like a pet or a kid with kwashiorkor. But maybe you could spend a day going with a vet and just keep him company while he waits forever to be seen at a VA hospital. Maybe you can bear witness yourself of his or her treatment. Maybe you can fill up his tank with gas, drive him yourself, babysit the kiddos, or have the family over for a dinner after they have had to pick their way through an administrative minefield. It might not be as fun as fireworks on the 4th, but the kind of fireworks we will be facing if we do not take care of “him who shall have borne the battle” will be deadly because we will have failed the ones to whom we owe the most.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner