By - Lieutenant Colonel Scott E. Rutter U.S. Army (Retired) - Gulf War Army Commander Who Destroyed Iraqi Republican Guard

(Washington D.C.) As we round the corner to 2021, thoughts are directed naturally to the future. It has been a particularly difficult year and we have all been touched either directly or within miniscule degrees of separation by the hardships and tragedies of 2020. Yet, despite this crushing pandemic, the human spirit drives to find a light, a rebirth, something better to grasp in 2021. At the same time, there is dramatic change underway in the government as we look to the leadership of the new Presidential administration and new Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). With all these moving elements, it is a good time to regroup and evaluate the value proposition of the VA, what are the primary goals and how do we re-promise that which Abraham Lincoln pledged to those that have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan? What direction will the VA take or will the swirling changes around us go unnoticed by the VA?

As with any successful organization, it is important to clearly and succinctly state the purpose or mission. This is no exception for the VA. A review of the VA website at www.va.gov one has to search for this element. The front page states, “Access and manage your VA benefits and healthcare.” So, does this inform us that the VA is primarily a benefit provider, including healthcare benefits? I had to click on learn about VA to find the Mission Statement, Vision and Core Values at this page: https://www.va.gov/ABOUT_VA/index.asp

Based on my summary of the details on this page, it appears to me that the mission of the VA is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The detail missions inclusive within that overall mission are Veterans Health Care, Veterans Benefits, National Cemeteries and a fourth mission to “improve the Nation’s preparedness for response to war, terrorism, national emergencies, and natural disasters by developing plans and taking actions to ensure continued service to veterans, as well as to support national, state, and local emergency management, public health, safety and homeland security efforts.” The page then goes on to provide the vision which includes providing “world-class” benefits and services Veterans have earned. Lastly, the core-values are ICARE. You can read it all on their webpage – About Us.

Now that we know the stated mission of the VA, let us go back again to the statements specifically made by Abraham Lincoln and the time of tragedy and great loss in 1865. It was the Civil War, a war in which over 600,000 Servicemembers were killed. President Lincoln was set to give his inaugural address. His address probes and questions how God could unleash such a horrific war on this nation and how slavery stood as an abomination and stain for which “woe due to those by whom the offenses came.” With over 300,000 dead from COVID, we similarly question why this tragedy would befall us and to what did we do to deserve this. Yet, despite the bitter divisions in the country, Lincoln believed his task was to unify the country towards reconciliation. He expressed the need for charity towards others and firmness and strength to do what is right. He believed the battles would end and the nation would heal and in that healing process we would find lasting peace. In this speech, he specifically stated that we must “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” While one could interpret that statement to mean directly that the nation had an obligation to heal the wounds of battle, but that literal interpretation can be misleading because President Lincoln specifically included for his widow and his orphan in that phrase. Lincoln surely believed that injured Servicemembers should be cared for and their injuries resolved. But, as Lincoln often did, he was making a much grander statement, which the VA has not directly addressed. It is time the VA repromise the Veterans of today that which Abraham Lincoln fully intended.

The provision of healthcare is just one spoke on a much larger recovery wheel. It goes without saying that the healthcare provided by the VA, whether in VA hospitals and clinics, or through private providers, must be world-class and responsible attention needs to be paid to doing this. I have written many times about the abounding failures of transition between DoD and VA healthcare, massive weaknesses in appointment scheduling, individual VA hospital budget interests placed above a nationwide network of VA care, aged software applications, unscrupulous ways of averting Veteran contracting set asides and the critical need for a seamless transition into and through the VA healthcare system. This does not need to be disputed and the delays on these items, given the technology we have today and the billions that US taxpayershave spent, are completely unacceptable. What Lincoln was telling the people at his inaugural speech was that our Servicemembers and their Families need to be cared for in a way that offers them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His words right before are “let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.” President Lincoln was reaching out to all Americans, North and South, to resolve this conflict and care for our nation such that there can be peace. For those that borne the battle, that their service to this nation shall not diminish their own, their widows or their orphan’s capabilities, their faculties, or their opportunities. This is a much different perspective on the mission of the VA than what you read on the VA website. This is a perspective that envisions the entire Veteran experience from military transition to fully productive member of society. There is no Veteran that I know that wants a hand-out, they need solutions that embody their lives and those of their Families. The VA has twisted itself into a major healthcare provider and sidelined so many of the factors that dramatically improve the lives of Veterans – job training, job placement, financial training, caregiver assistance, survivor opportunities. It is a great wonder why the VA is constantly perplexed why Veteran suicide remains stubbornly so high. Take the time to understand why someone may contemplate suicide and you will start to see the weaknesses of the VA and its failure to understand the real VA mission as so eloquently expressed by President Lincoln.

As the New Year rushes upon us, I ask the VA to better understand the real mission and the true meaning of the words of President Lincoln. I ask President-elect Joseph Biden and hisnew administration and the new Secretary of the VA to step back and really question the path forward. Ask the hard questions and don’t accept the powerpoint drivel of the past. There has been so much pain in 2020 and from that we can only hope for reflection and change. We battle the dilemma’s in our mind of what we could have done better or differently this past year for our loved ones and our nation and if we can muster the strength and resolve to move forward. In 2021, re-promise that which was promised to our Veterans and their Families by President Lincoln. As we spend this holiday season thinking more and traveling less, take the time to really understand the needs of our Veterans and how best to provide them the kind of solutions that allow them to fully pursue life, liberty and happiness.

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Silver Star Recipient Lt. Col. Scott Rutter commanded the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 3ID (M) destroying Republican Guard Forces as Baghdad International Airport during the

combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom I (2003). Scott is an Entrepreneur and Founder and President of the Valor Network, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business that is one of the largest Telemedicine/Teleradiology providers to medical facilities in the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security.