After members of our armed forces bravely serve their nation, they sometimes come home to find themselves battling another enemy---within their own government. Using decades of case histories, statistics, and firsthand accounts, Martin Schram exposes a shocking culture of antagonism toward veterans by the very agency---the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)---that was formed to serve them.
Schram places our veterans’ current struggles within historical context, going back to the Bonus Army of beleaguered World War I vets who camped out on Washington’s national mall in 1932, demanding their promised benefits, only to be turned away by their own brethren in the U.S. Army---led by future military heroes Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton Jr., and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Readers will be angered to learn of the legions of veterans---from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars---who are routinely denied benefits to which they are entitled and who die while awaiting benefit reviews that are stalled by institutionalized delays. And they will be downright outraged by the results of a 2002 Mystery Caller test that showed VA representatives treating help-line callers with condescension and even ridicule---one service rep is shown laughing and hanging up on a caller---and providing “completely correct” answers to questions regarding care and compensation just 19 percent of the time.
In the most intimate segment of the book, we meet Gulf War vet Bill Florey, who contracted a rare cancer after his exposure to Iraqi chemical weapons that were mistakenly detonated by the U.S. Army. Florey’s crucial medical tests were delayed, he was denied service-related compensation he deserved, and he died before a government study finally linked the exposure to his form of cancer. Schram also highlights accounts of shameless deception of our soldiers, including misleading information provided by recruiters, and discloses how Iraq and Afghanistan war vets were being denied benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder---even after diagnoses by the VA’s own doctors."
The author not only exposes a chilling pattern of institutional neglect, delay, and denial, but also points us toward solutions: the outsourcing of expertise, the institution of a “Vet-med card,” and the elimination of negative-incentive bonuses for VA officials, to name a few. Schram’s bold bugle call, sounded on behalf of our nation’s beleaguered servicemen and -women, culminates with a proposal to reinvent what has become a department of veterans’ adversaries by giving the VA a new name that makes clear its true mission---the Department of Veterans’ Advocacy.