veteran burn himself to death

When a navy veteran burns himself to death in a forest of bureaucrats, will you hear a sound? Hardly, if you’re listening to national news.

What does a veteran in need have to do to get an unresponsive government’s attention? Not even the smell of burning flesh gets the VA to realize the woeful state of our nation’s concern, or lack of it, for its men and women who served in the armed forces, or, apparently, even a moment’s notice from the commander in chief.

Charles Richard Ingram III, 51 years old and a father of two, walked nine miles from his home in Egg Harbor Township, NJ to the VA clinic in Northfield. The retired chief petty officer, who served from 1985-1992, stood on the lawn of the closed clinic, poured gas all over himself and lit a match, burning himself over 100% of his body. Despite bystanders rushing to his side, the damage was too much and he died.

Now there’s just a patch of burned grass, and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs response will probably be to act quickly… to get the lawn re-sodded.

The VA claims to be on “a mission of caring”, but is perhaps one of the most uncaring departments in a government that neglects its men and women who have put on the uniform and defended their country. The system employs 400,000 people, has a 150 billion budget, with a B, to serve our veterans, and there are 800 community based outpatient clinics all over the country. Unfortunately, they’re only open from 8am to 4:30pm Monday-Friday; bureaucrat’s hours, and not much help for a vet in need on a weekend.

Veteran advocates of all political stripes have pushed for years to address horrific wait times for our veterans in need. The Atlantic City Press reports that, on any given day, there’s just one psychologist for every 200 veterans. If you were in a war zone and watched people die, do you think that a ratio like that would handle the issues that many of our veterans face? Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome and other issues are rampant among those who have put their lives on the line for our country, and we’re not even talking about those disabled by physical wounds. Many regions have no VA hospitals, and veterans aren’t allowed to seek help from doctors not in the system. The distances many have to travel and the wait times discourage some from being able to access the system at all.

Is it too much to ask for evening and weekend hours at VA clinics, something veteran’s groups have wanted for years now? Why are we holding our vets hostage to the system, and not letting them freely seek care from local doctors and hospitals? Some politicians, like Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo of NJ, has petitioned for this option and there are plenty, including ourselves, that agree.

The time for making veterans prisoners of a healthcare system that doesn’t meet their needs is over. Why must sacrificial acts like Charles Richard Ingram’s be needed to call attention to the VA’s problems? And why wasn’t this act news? What could have been worthier of media attention? Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? C’mon. Is it another case of “Nothing to see here, move along”?

It’s not the first time, Navy veteran Kevin Keller, 52, shot himself in front of a VA clinic in 2014, and even left a note blaming the VA for prematurely taking him off painkillers.

A recent report found problems at several VA centers, including Northfield, where a nurse working at the clinic blew the whistle about records-doctoring at the clinic. The nurse told VA investigators her supervisor instructed her to alter appointments entered in the scheduling application which had long wait times to read “zero-day wait time.”

We should be ashamed of all this, yet shills for the VA facility in Wilmington, Delaware, which oversees the NJ clinic where Charles Ingram ended his life, can only point to how they’ve instituted “telehealth” services, where all your ills can be cured via computer. They can’t, and our vets are paying the price. Was there even a statement by the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs? If so, I can’t find it.

The VA is understaffed and the many worthy medical professionals who care for our veterans need help. They need more people pushing IV fluids and less pushing pencils.

If we’re spending 150 billion a year on the VA, where is that money going? If it’s all going to healthcare, it’s not enough. If it’s going to pay a bunch of bureaucrat’s salaries, it needs to be redistributed so that our veterans can see that money working to make their lives better.

We should be angry about what’s happening to our men and women who’ve served their country. Have you wondered why members of our military back Donald Trump? It’s because, like many others, they feel betrayed. They’re mad, and they should be.

I mentioned the case of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. He burned himself to death on a Saigon street  to protest government abuses in 1963. I saw the video and can imagine the scene at the clinic where Petty Officer Ingram took his life.

Thich Quang Duc’s act received worldwide attention, thanks to American journalists. It’s time for our nation’s journalists to come to the aid of their veterans. It may not be sexy to write about the VA’s shortcomings, but Charles Ingram’s act was sensational, something you journalists love. Where are your voices, when will you speak out? Until you do, Charles Ingram’s voice will not be heard. We should all cry for Charles Ingram, but, more importantly, we should cry out against the weak and incompetent system that led him to take his own life.