In all the brouhaha about the Veterans Administration — the alleged misconduct and malpractice in Arizona, and the ensuing calls for the head of Secretary Eric Shinseki — it is crucial that the issue not be treated solely as a referendum on Shinseki, and on the Obama administration generally.
The VA system is far too reluctant to ask for help from the private sector in caring for the hundreds of thousands suffering from the signature injuries of 21st century war: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
This is ironic, since it has been increasingly successful in getting veterans themselves to seek help with these challenges — which used to be so stigmatized that they often preferred to hide or ignore them.
It is true that the medical and therapeutic services of the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have made many advances during these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The quality of prosthetic technology, for example, and associated rehabilitative programs have been greatly improved.
But the picture with mental healthcare in particular is not nearly so impressive. Here, the VA’s bureaucracy has dug in its heels against reform proposals to offer a combination of private and public healthcare.