By Stuart Platt
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The ongoing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal raises an important question: When our veterans are being denied access to basic health care, why is the Pentagon squandering billions of dollars on programs that do not benefit our military forces? Is there a link in organization attitudes?
The extent of the corruption at the VA is not yet fully understood. As revealed in early May, the department has been covering up and falsifying records to imply higher rates of appointments than are actually occurring. The result is hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been left with no access to health care or disability benefits. Recently, allegations about the quality of managing care have also started to emerge.
The VA released an internal audit showing 120,000 veterans received delayed care. In Phoenix, where the scandal first broke, the VA has confirmed that 18 veterans have died due to delays.
Unfortunately, the VA isn’t the only government agency whose addiction to squander undermines its core mission and breaks honor with the men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe. The Pentagon, with an annual budget of more than half a trillion dollars, is notorious for economic foolishness and a lack of transparency and accountability in how it spends resources that are meant to ensure our troops have what they need to keep us safe.
For two decades, the Pentagon has been unable to pass an audit. As a result, billions of dollars disappear every year, and rather than track it down, Pentagon accountants apparently chalk it up to a rounding error.
Programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have cost taxpayers more than $400 billion during the past 12 years with a predicted price tag of $1 trillion. Yet the program suffers from a lack of effective direction and transparency that has resulted in it continuously failing to meet performance goals, falling further and further behind schedule, and running the risk of being eclipsed by new technologies. It takes years to develop new strike and attack aircraft, but at times leaders have to say the price is just too high. That is, take what we have learned and start anew.
The Pentagon received $80 billion for war costs this year and has requested $60 billion for next year. Unfortunately, our troops still deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere don’t always benefit from this high level of funding. The war budget has become a slush fund, a hiding place for pet projects of the brass and pork for members of Congress. This year’s budget, for example, includes $1 billion for the newly created “European Reassurance Fund.” It’s unclear what that $1 billion will buy, but it’s hard to see how it will benefit our men and women in uniform.
As a retired Navy flag officer who was tasked with ensuring the Navy got the best deals and best quality for its dollar, it pains me to see resources that could be helping our troops being wasted. As a current CEO, I know this kind of waste and poor accounting would never be tolerated in the private sector. And as a U.S. citizen and taxpayer, I believe we must do better. America deserves bang for its buck.
The VA scandal shows the drastic need for accountability and spending priorities that match 21st-century needs. Our representatives in Washington should work to aggressively combat the ills in the VA and at the same time look to eliminate economic squandering of appropriations in government.
America should never spend money on programs it doesn’t need or should not afford. If money is wasted or lost or stashed in European slush funds at the same time we fail to provide basic services to those who risk their lives fighting for this country, we have failed. And failure here is not an option.
RETIRED REAR ADM. STUART F. PLATT was appointed by the Reagan administration as the Navy’s first competition advocate general. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
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