John O’Connor

Next Monday marks Veterans Day. It’s a solemn occasion that honors the men and women who have served in our nation’s various military conflicts.

We Americans like to make a big deal about this occasion, and rightfully so.

The day will certainly feature a moving wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument in Arlington National Cemetery. Graves of veterans will be adorned with flags there as well, and in cemeteries across the nation. Towns and cities will host parades. There may even be a few ads offering sincere thanks to the men and women who wear or have worn the uniform.

These gestures are all fantastic. But are they really enough?

This is the part where I start blasting the VA, the VHA and lousy nursing homes, right? Not exactly. Well, maybe just a little bit.

Truth be told, there are many thousands of people working tirelessly inside and outside the government to make life better for men and women who have served. The Veterans Health Administration is the nation’s largest integrated health care system. It provides care at more than a thousand healthcare settings, including nursing facilities.

But, boy, do veterans have to jump through hoops just to get care that should be automatic. That is, if they ever get it at all. 

And when it comes to skilled care services, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

An investigation by USA Today found that between April and December of 2018, inspectors from a private contractor cited 52 out of 99 VA nursing homes for deficiencies that caused “actual harm” to veterans. 

Are we OK with that? We must be, or heads would have been rolling and major changes would have been put in place by now. To my knowledge, neither has happened.

So, yes, it’s nice that we’ll pause to thank our veterans next Monday. And it is heartening that we also remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice each Memorial Day. Those are two days each year where we really go out of our way to make the veterans among us feel special.

It’s just unfortunate that there are so many other days when they are treated as anything but.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s editorial director.