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Jackson affair hardly tribute to our veterans EDITORIAL: Erratic Jackson affair hardly a tribute to our veterans

Waco Tribune-Herald - 5/6/2018

Last month in these pages, McLennan County Veterans Service Officer Steve Hernandez hit the public alarm button concerning not only plans to relocate the Post-Traumatic Residential Rehabilitation Program (PRRP) from Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco to VA facilities in Temple but the possibility VA officials contemplate another run at shuttering the local medical center, as they did more than a decade ago. Hernandez noted how, after much debate over moving PRRP in 2016, the decision was made to keep it in Waco. Now its future here seems fluid at best, though Republican Congressman Bill Flores is fighting the move. We'll see how that works out.

All this happens against an astonishing backdrop, enough to prompt one to wonder how serious federal officials are about improving VA facilities, services and bureaucracy. While politicians and civic leaders routinely pay homage to veterans in speeches and ceremonies, last month's spectacle involving the quicksilver nomination of President Trump'sWhite House physician to head the Department of Veterans Affairs had the look of impulsiveness, even recklessness. It hardly offered veterans and their families confidence that necessary and overdue reforms are a priority.

At one point, the president seemed unsure whether the man he proposed to head an agency of 375,000 employees and a budget exceeding $185 billion should even have to endure scrutiny. Within days of the announcement, White House physician Ronny Jackson was up to his ears in allegations ranging from creating a hostile work environment to overseeing a medical staff free and easy in dispensing prescription drugs. And all this neglected the more obvious concerns, such as whether Jackson could even manage this massive agency. Question: Would you hire someone of limited experience to run a huge, complicated and unwieldy agency?

Given scandals involving other Cabinet and White House picks, Trump's insight into what makes a good manager is in shambles, at least to anyone who knows good management. Veterans who count on VA facilities have every right to expect the nomination of a VA secretary will be handled with more discrimination, more foresight and better judgment. Perhaps if the president vetted top-level White House picks to the exacting degree he demands of fleeing refugees, he wouldn't be suffering one embarrassment after another.

True to form, Trump blamed Democrats for sinking Jackson's VA nomination, but many Republican senators - fully grasping the risk of appointing the wrong person to head the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs - had signaled their deep reservations as well.

A few weeks out from Memorial Day, more of us should contemplate seriously not only what we ask of military personnel in an increasingly hostile world but our long-lasting responsibilities to them after they return home, and not always quite as intact as when they shipped out on our behalf. "Thank you for your service" simply isn't enough of U.S. citizenry today. Demanding greater discernment of the individuals we tap to head the oft-challenged agency charged with treating and serving them would be a far better response.


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