May 22, 2014

WILLIAM GALSTON: The Veterans’ Administration Scandal Is Only The Start: If the country can’t meet basic needs now, wait until the looming deficit disaster finally strikes.

The recent revelations about the Department of Veterans Affairs point to serious problems. But the root of the scandal is not what self-serving bureaucrats failed to do or tried to cover up; it is a federal budget that prevents us from meeting even the national needs on which our polarized political parties can agree.

Whatever the disagreements about the long wars of the past decades, Democrats and Republicans agree that we must fully honor the debt we have incurred to the tiny fraction of the population that does the fighting for the rest of us. Yes, the budget for the VA has risen sharply since 2002. But the number of returning veterans has risen even faster. Many live with grievous wounds from which they would have succumbed in previous conflicts. Many others struggle with the multiple effects of repeated deployments. Aging Vietnam-era patients require more care, and new responsibilities such as coping with Agent Orange add to the VA’s burden.

In 2002, reports the Financial Times, 46.5 million veterans made outpatient visits to VA facilities. In 2012, the number of such visits had risen to 83.6 million. Between late 2010 and the summer of 2013, average waiting times for veterans’ claims soared from 100 days to 375 days.

So, basically, we’re running out of other people’s money. I’ve heard that can happen.