On Wednesday, President Obama attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In his remarks, Obama attempted to strike a balance between highlighting the strides his administration has made in expanding services and benefits for veterans, while acknowledging the ways the country, and the Department of Veterans Affairs in particular, has failed them. “The unacceptable problems that we’ve seen – like long wait times, and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need – is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds,” the president said.
Last year a CNN report showed that at least 40 veterans had died waiting for care at VA facilities in the Phoenix area; the scandal mushroomed when an internal audit found more than 120,000 veterans across the country were left waiting or never got care, even as VA employees were trained to manipulate wait time numbers internally. It’s a scandal that continues to sting. A report published Wednesday shows the VA doled out $142 million in performance bonuses in 2014, the same year it was being investigated for manipulating data. And last month Hillary Clinton came under fire for telling Rachel Maddow the problem has “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” (Her remarks stood in contrast to those made by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki when he resigned last May: “I said when this situation began weeks to months ago that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe it. It is systemic.”)
As upsetting as the as the VA’s failures are, they’re the tip of the iceberg for how the United States fails its veterans.
Less than half of the country’s 21.2 million veterans were employed in 2014 — 573,000 were looking for work, while 10.5 million were neither employed nor seeking employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.