Too tired to care about VA scandal?
By Salena Zito
Published: Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
An unknown number of U.S. military veterans are dead within 30 days of contracting Legionnaires' disease in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh.
Aside from their family members, few people seem to be outraged.
If that doesn't grab your attention, perhaps this will: VA officials in charge when those men were dying from a preventable illness received more than $100,000 in performance bonuses.
The same bureaucrats who were paid handsomely for negligence and incompetence also refuse to answer reporters' questions about whether they've removed the deadly Legionella bacteria from hospitals that were built to heal, protect and serve those who served us.
More veterans could die if the bacteria are not removed, and no one appears to care.
Where is the moral outrage?
The national media have no problem devoting resources and airtime to whatever sexcapade New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, will admit to next, or whether Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both Republicans, have escalated their war of words beyond bacon and pork.
Surely the same national media have time to draw attention to veterans' needless deaths.
And what about other Americans? Are we so wearied by a long recession that we can only focus on our own financial worries and not the tragedy of preventable deaths?
Or perhaps we're just fatigued with the Obama administration's scandals — the IRS targeting conservative groups, the National Security Agency seeing, hearing and tracking just about everything that everyone in this country does, the Justice Department tapping journalists' phones and emails, the still-murky details of how the White House responded to a terrorist attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi last September that left four dead.
Scandals aside, the country is coming to grips with the bankruptcy of once-formidable Detroit, the incitement by the press and the president of a racial divide over the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, and nagging uncertainties over the implementation of ObamaCare.
In short, America may be just too tired to care — and it appears the VA is betting on just that.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the VA Pittsburgh outbreak to at least five deaths, but a Trib investigation shows the number is higher.
Our newspaper's investigations also found that VA and CDC officials did not review water-quality testing records, which showed alarmingly high levels of Legionella bacteria in the water system dating back to at least 2007.
Late last week, the VA's undersecretary of health, Dr. Robert Petzel, was speaking at The National Press Club in Washington, a place specifically designed for open questioning by the press. After the speech, Petzel was asked what he had to say to vets who are concerned because the VA hospital continues to be run by those who presided over the outbreak.
The undersecretary just stared dully straight ahead and refused to acknowledge the question.
He continued to ignore another question from a Trib reporter about what he would say to veterans who admit they fear going to the VA for treatment because of its handling of the Legionella outbreak.
Petzel had just finished an hour-long speech, bragging about the VA's upgrades.
His spokesman said the press club wasn't the place for questions.
But with all due respect, sir, it is the press club.
Washington politics is no friend to the soldier: It is deaf to the VA scandal that has happened in Pittsburgh. It is deaf to the impact of reducing military readiness as it debates national defense in an age of austerity — something many career military men passionately believe will bring about the slow decay of ground-force readiness and render American servicemen and -women unprepared for the next military conflict.
Soldiers are the purest example of valor and sacrifice; every moment of their service, even the mundane ones, has great meaning and purpose. The only thing that protects our country and the freedoms we enjoy is the resolution and discipline of a well-led American soldier.
How can we stand by and not hold accountable those who neglected our veterans, whose love of God and country inspired them to serve and preserve our country's people and our fundamental liberties?
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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