On Nov. 12, 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama said: "After seven years of an administration that has stretched our military to the breaking point, ignored deplorable conditions at some VA hospitals, and neglected the planning and preparation necessary to care for our returning heroes, America's veterans deserve a president who will fight for them not just when it's easy or convenient, but every hour of every day for the next four years."
On Wednesday, President Obama, who has now been in the White House for nearly 5½ years, said that if charges of widespread deficiencies at Veterans Affairs medical facilities are proved true, "I will not stand for it - not as commander in chief but also not as an American."
Then again, Mr. Obama has always talked a good game on health care for veterans.
But the still-emerging VA scandal's side-effects go far beyond the justifiably negative public-relations fallout facing this particular president.
It's a national disgrace that transcends politics.
We send members of our military into harm's way, often in distant realms. As part of their reward for that indispensable service, we promise in return that they will receive quality medical care while they are in - and after they leave - the armed forces.
That vow apparently has been violated on a large scale in recent years. Among numerous credible allegations is the prevalent use within the VA medical system of "secret waiting lists" for patients' appointments. Evidently there routinely are dangerous delays for veterans who need to see doctors and get crucial treatment.
According to one seemingly reliable whistle-blower, this appalling practice at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., has resulted in at least 40 veterans' deaths.
Such outrageous revelations have resulted in a growing number of federal lawmakers, including Democrats, demanding that the president fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Appointed to that job by President Obama in 2009, the former Army general still has the administration's support - though that backing appears to be slipping.
And VA Undersecretary for Health Care Robert Petzel resigned under fire late last week. At this galling point, though, demands for the ouster of Secretary Shinseki also are quite persuasive.
There are only two possibilities to consider:
1) If Secretary Shinseki knew about the systemic neglect of our veterans' medical needs and didn't take effective measures to end it, he has to go - as do any other officials who bear responsibility for this outrage. 2) If Secretary Shinseki didn't know about it, he should have.
Meanwhile, if bureaucratic red tape is a driving force behind this mess, it must be reduced.
And if the VA's failure to do its health care duty is due to insufficient funding, Congress must correct that problem.
Monday is Memorial Day, when Americans annually pause to honor the more than one million members of the U.S. military who have died in our nation's wars.
But we also must remember to honor those who have served in our armed forces and survived - by honoring our pledge to provide them with timely, quality medical care.
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