February 25, 2016
On Feb. 18, The American Legion launched a Thunderclap campaign (#Accountable2Veterans) calling for action, not just words, when restoring accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 4,500 social media users signed up to support the campaign.
On Feb. 24, American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett took that same message to Congress. “We can only achieve accountability to America’s veterans if we work together – honestly and transparently – to prove that a grateful nation will put real execution behind all the words,” Barnett told a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. “Congress, VA, the DoD and veterans service organizations must show those who have served in uniform that America can be as accountable to its veterans as veterans have been to America.”
Barnett expressed disappointment over recent reversals of disciplinary actions handed down to VA employees who were found to have abused their positions. “You cannot imagine how disappointed I and my fellow American Legion members were on Oct. 21, 2015, when five senior VA witnesses failed to appear at an accountability hearing, and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs had to issue subpoenas to summon them,” Barnett said, adding that once two did show up, they invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid explaining findings from the Inspector General that they had manipulated the system to the tune of about $400,000 in unscrupulous relocation costs and practices.
“Our disappointment only grew after additional hearings established wrongdoing, and punishments were imposed, only to be overturned in the appeals process,” Barnett said. “Veterans do not see this as accountability.”
Barnett said the United States has a moral contract to care for its veterans in a compassionate and efficient manner that is easily accessible. That includes proper staffing, a timely and accurate benefits adjudication and appeals process, and a seamless Choice Program that creates no additional burden to the patient.
And, Barnett said, it means “VA executives, managers and employees who fail to perform in a responsible or competent manner – or, worse yet, abuse their positions for personal gain – should be appropriately disciplined, to include termination. The American Legion, Congress and VA all supported the Accountability Act because it made clear that dereliction of duty would have consequences. “The words are all there. Execution is the problem.”
In the area of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Barnett urged the government to look at treatment methods beyond prescription drugs. “The American Legion supports no fewer than six bills in the 114thCongress to recognize different ways to succeed in the battle to help veterans with PTSD and TBI,” he said. “All of these open the door to treatment that does not depend on drugs. I call on Congress to move bills such as these through the process and into law. You have The American Legion’s support.”
During his testimony, Barnett presented the Legion’s other legislative priorities to the committees. Those include providing effective assistance to military personnel transitioning into the civilian world, jobs and business opportunities that match the skills and training of those transitioning servicemembers, and the budget resources necessary for the U.S. military at war today.
“Veterans and Americans at war today are looking to their nation for nothing less than action and accountability to back up those priorities,” Barnett said. “Too often, what they’re seeing is the assignment of blame over an inability to execute. “We need to find different ways to succeed. It’s time to expand the definition of accountability.”
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