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EDITORIAL: Strange priorities at the VA

The sick and halt wait but the solar panels don’t

- - Thursday, June 19, 2014

The administrators at the Veterans Administration have apparently been busy while old soldiers waited to see a doctor, after all. Serving those who served is not necessarily a priority, but saving the planet is Job 1. Solar panels and windmills can be more important than the touch of a healing hand.

The department early on set up an Office of Green Management Programs designed to "help VA facilities nationwide recognize opportunities to green VA, and to reward innovative 'green' practices and efforts by individual facilities and staff within the VA." This sometimes means paying more attention to greening the department and saving the polar ice caps than to health care.

In the department's words, it adopted a far more important mission to "become more energy efficient and sustainable, focusing primarily on renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, [carbon-dioxide] emissions reduction, and sustainable buildings."

The green office isn't merely a desk and telephone tucked away in the dark corner of a nondescript government building. It's a substantial undertaking, with all the luxury, bells and whistles of a bureaucracy that means business. Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned as secretary in the wake of the VA scandal of the sin of omission, traveled the country to boast of the green initiative. In one instance, he traveled to Massachusetts to flick the switch at a half-million-dollar windmill project at the Massachusetts National Cemetery. "Nationally," he said, "VA continues to expand its investment in renewable sources of energy to promote our nation's energy independence, save taxpayer dollars, and improve care for our veterans and their families.

VA facilities have become littered with every scheme to banish carbon dioxide short of requiring visitors to hold their breath. Calverton National Cemetery spent $742,034 on solar panels. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery spent $787,308. Not to be out-greened, the Riverside National Cemetery spent $1.3 million on its solar system.

At the Phoenix VA Health Care System, where 20 Americans died from incompetence and cover-up, the department spent $20 million putting solar panels on the hospital roofs. That would have been more than enough money to provide the veterans with the health care they deserved.

Some administrators won't be satisfied until every federal building bears a green stamp. In military parlance, the VA is practicing "mission creep," the expansion of a project well beyond its intended goals. While the rest of the government continues to waste taxpayer funds trying to become carbon-dioxide neutral, the VA should be spending every available dollar to relieve pain, cure the sick and restore the deserving to health. That's more important than any fad, environmental or otherwise.