As the immigration debate in our country boils over, the drumbeat to mobilize the National Guard to secure our borders grows louder.
We are treated to the specter of near daily images of angry crowds jeering at busloads of South American children who have crossed our border illegally and are in transit at some stage of processing.
Meanwhile, our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., paralyzed by partisan politics, do nothing but flap their jaws at a problem they are incapable of fixing.
We see parallels with this crisis and another involving our Veterans Affairs heath system where reports of long wait times for treatment and employee misconduct have undermined the credibility of the agency.
It has led one veteran and former U.S. Surgeon General to make a similar call for mobilization of the National Guard — at least some elements of it.
Richard H. Carmona, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who later served as U.S. Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, said this week that an immediate solution to clear the backlog of cases at VA facilities is to ensure that they can be open and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Carmona argues we can accomplish this quickly and seamlessly with existing resources by activating members of the U.S. Public Health Service, reservists and members of the National Guard who serve in health fields.
What we need, Carmona said Friday, is a “surge” of health care professionals to address the two chokepoints in the VA health system — timely evaluation and specific treatment. We have the resources, we just need to utilize them.
Carmona and others have pointed out that the VA can and often does provide exceptional care. But the VA has been overwhelmed with veterans returning from multiple deployments during two wars over more than a decade.
These veterans face a host of post-deployment challenges ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to thoughts of suicide to the horrible physical wounds of war that require months and even years of rehabilitation.
The VA simply can’t handle the sheer number of new cases it is being asked to address.
Earlier this year it was revealed that some veterans may have died waiting for care at VA facilities and that veterans seeking specialist care were waiting an average of 86 days to see a physician. We’d call that a crisis.
Our country has mobilized the National Guard in other times of crisis. We think Carmona’s call to do so in this case is a discussion worth having. Let’s meet the problem head-on with a surge of health care professionals who we already have at our disposal and arrest the problem.
Carmona is right when he says that failing to provide our veterans with the treatment they rightfully deserve is not only disgraceful — it’s intolerable.
If we are to fulfill our promise to veterans then we must ensure that timely, respectful, and high-quality veterans’ health care is a national priority.
Call up the Guard.