Only two weeks after a rash of veteran suicides on the grounds of different Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities around the country, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told an audience in the Bronx the VA system provides veterans with “some of the best care in the world,” adding her parents taught her when something “ain’t broke,” you don’t fix it.
The congresswoman that identifies as a socialist went on to say she’s advocating a form of “VA for all” healthcare system in the United States. Her remarks seemed to suggest Ocasio-Cortez likely isn’t aware of the difficulties many veterans have faced receiving treatment in their local medical facilities – often due to extremely long waits for appointments, followed by hours more spent in overcrowded waiting rooms in order to see a physician.
While some have been critical of the Trump administration for the frequent changeover in senior leadership at the VA in the past two years (with four different men appointed at five different times serving as secretary of Veterans Affairs since Trump took office), Ocasio-Cortez seemed to suggest the VA was already seeing a real effort at reform, though she claimed the efforts were driven by the wrong motivations.
“Here’s the thing, they are trying to fix it. But who are they are trying to fix it for, is the question we gotta ask …They are trying to fix the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they are trying to fix the VA for insurance corporations, and, ultimately, they are trying to fix the VA for a for-profit healthcare industry that does not put people or veterans first,” she said.
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 22, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez did say one thing most veterans would likely agree with: that one of the biggest issues VA medical facilities face is a lack of staff.
“If we really want to fix the VA so badly, let’s start hiring, and fill up some of those 49,000 [staff] vacancies,” she said before adding the VA could then serve as a model for her “VA for all” aspirations.
One of the VA’s largest challenges has been finding a way to address the issue of veteran suicide, though in recent years VA outreach efforts meant to offer suicide treatment to veterans have seen a sharp downturn, with veteran and active duty suicides increasing across a number of demographics. Young veterans aged 18-34 have seen an increase from 40.4 suicides for every 100,000 veterans to 45 per every 100,000. Marine Corps suicides saw a ten-year high in 2018, and suicides within the active and veteran special operations community have nearly tripled.
Among the three suicides on VA grounds that took place earlier this month was Gary Presley, 29, who shot himself in the chest in the parking lot of Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia on April 5th.
“He told his girlfriend he was going to do it in the parking lot, so they could find his body, so somebody can pay attention to what’s happening, so other vets do not have to go through this,” his mother recounted after the incident.
The following day, Olen Hancock, 68, was seen pacing around the lobby of the VA Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia before returning to his vehicle in the parking lot and shooting himself.
Just a few days later in Austin, Texas another as-yet unidentified veteran drew a pistol inside the waiting room at the VA Clinic and shot himself in front of hundreds of witnesses.
“Every new instance of veteran suicide showcases a barrier to access, but with three incidents on VA property in just five days, and six this year alone, it’s critical we do more to stop this epidemic,” Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the press.