By Lacy Scarmana
Shortly before this episode of Noon Edition, President Obama announced that Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Eric Shinseki resigned.
Veterans Service officer of the Monroe County Veterans Affairs Department Larry Catt and former Monroe County Veterans Service Officer John Tilford discussed Shinseki’s resignation, along with Indiana’s VA operations and the mental health issues in the military.
Shinseki’s resignation comes amid allegations that VA medical facilities have falsified long wait times that led to preventable deaths.
U.S. Republican Representative Jackie Walorski represents Indiana’s second district and is on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
She joined the program briefly to say she is grateful Shinseki stepped down because the situation deserves fresh eyes and leadership. But she says the problems in the VA go deeper than the administration.
“This is just step one,” she says. “Nobody should be shouting victory. Nobody should interpret this with any political eyes. This has been a bipartisan issue. It needs to stay a bipartisan issue.”
Catt agrees that a change at the top level won’t solve the problems within the department.
“I doubt that he was aware that all these problems even existed and I think it was obviously concealed,” Catt says. “That’s where you have to get to is those middle guys. Congress has kind of a short memory and I think that once they replace him, unless somebody keeps blowing the horn, that they will kind of forget there was ever a problem in the VA.”
Veterans Affairs in Indiana
Every county in Indiana has a Veterans Affairs Officer, but the amount of service available to veterans depends on the amount of funds allocated by each individual county. Catt says they do pretty well in Monroe County, but other counties don’t have the same resources.
“If they can’t take care of you, they can certainly get you in contact with someone else,” Catt says.
Catt says one misconception people have about county VA’s is that they are deeply rooted within the state’s department. In reality, he says, they operate independently and receive little assistance from the state.
Herald Times editor and Noon Edition host Bob Zaltsberg asked about the high percentage of disability claims by soldiers returning from the current wars.
“They’re never going to be the same physically and mentally,” Tilford says. “It’s horrible when it’s manifested in suicides.”
Catt says what soldiers see is enough to test most normal people’s minds.
“Some people deal with it differently, and I think that’s one of the frustrations these guys have,” Catt says. “They can’t talk to anybody because you can’t, no matter how vivid your description is of what you saw, what was done over that, you can’t convey that. There’s a certain frustration trying to tell somebody what it was like.”
He says the people who saw the worst things tend not to speak about it at all because nobody will understand.
Local VA facilities are available to help veterans with their physical and mental health.