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Op-Ed: David Bellavia: Demand Pete Hegseth for VA secretary

Pete Hegseth speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
December 21, 2016

Pete Hegseth is an Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gitmo veteran who is currently in the running to be President-elect Trump’s new VA Secretary.

There is no one more qualified to undertake the job of reforming the decrepit 300,000 person-strong failed bureaucracy that is the VA, on “day one.” Everyone else in the running would have a tremendous learning curve having never extensively studied, interacted or spent much time trying to reform the VA as Hegseth has. We’ve seen this story before – bureaucrats going along to get along.

When Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was recently asked about Hegseth by the New York Times, he said:

“If Trump picks Hegseth, it’s going to be war. He would be a radical departure from what the V.A. has been for generations.”

Your honor, I rest my case. Thank you.

I agree wholeheartedly with my friend, Paul Rieckhoff. Hegseth would be the most “radical departure from what the VA has been for generations,” which is precisely why we need the 36-year-old former CEO of Concerned Veterans of America to be our next VA Secretary, and not another bureaucrat who has barely ever stepped foot in a facility.

So why are the left and their veteran surrogates so serious about “going to war” if Hegseth is the choice from President-elect Trump?

The easiest explanation is that they want to keep their people around. Take a look at VA Secretary Bob McDonald, for example. Our progressive change agents are oddly keen on keeping around a man they believe has “made irrefutable progress.” This of course coming from the same screaming chorus that questioned the strategy and success of the Surge in Iraq under President Bush, then supported the same exact surge in Afghanistan under the command of President Obama. For them, it’s about partisanship over principle.

I understand the Veteran Service Organizations are in a tough bind as well. I love the American Legion and the VFW because they are fantastic organizations with a rich legacy. However, let’s remember something about VSOs – their very existence is obsolete if the VA functions as promised.

Either you are all in for what is best for the VA or you are not. It’s that simple.

Something dirty happened when the VA scandals started to manifest themselves in now infamous hospitals like the one in Phoenix. Veterans, heroes of some of the most difficult fighting in our modern era, men who survived Communist and Fascist shrapnel, were succumbing to bureaucratic incompetence.

Maggot invested limbs, long waits without proper care, cruel and indecent conditions, bed sores, dementia patients left stranded; these were not the stories from the POW cages our brave warriors like Senator John McCain experienced in the early 1970s. These were the conditions in his home state’s VA hospital.

In one Phoenix-area hospital, oddly a hospital where McCain never once publicly attacked as having a problem, the waiting time was literally killing veterans. At times the wait could be about 115 days for a veteran, and sometimes that appointment they were waiting for meant the difference between life or death.

So what did the VA do to fix it? They put over $10 billion into a program that let veterans see non-VA doctors.

But, what happened?

The wait time got worse. How is this even possible?

Congress gave Bob McDonald 90 days to right the ship. He went out and brought in a few private companies to help adjudicate the admin nightmare. VSOs and other pro-Obama supporters will tell you that the problem was Congress giving such a short period of time to fix the problem. It wasn’t the VA’s fault that it failed yet again.

It never seems to be.

Among the sea of advocates and veterans groups screaming for the VA to do its job, there has been one group that has managed to scream above the rest. Which group is that?

Pete Hegseth’s group: Concerned Veterans of America.

As CEO, Hegseth was the individual running around the Senate, with Rieckhoff nowhere to be found, getting co-sponsors to sign a law that would allow the VA to actually fire people responsible for malfeasance, incompetence and sometimes criminal behavior.

So where were the VSO’s? Where was Reickhoff? They didn’t feel the need to be there. They believe all is well at the VA. And in the end, they want more Bob McDonald.

Pete Hegseth represents our generation’s first attempt at fixing what our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations broke in the first place. At 36 years of age, he is a GWOT veteran, a man who led an infantry platoon and company in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was a young officer at Gitmo.

He supports the mission and the troops before the winds of political correctness take sides. Pete has no friends on committees that he owes allegiance to; he is a true maverick and outsider that doesn’t need a job.

Pete Hegseth wants to fix the VA. He believes it is his duty.

Hegseth will maintain the promise to our veterans. The promise broken by three generations, that if you sacrifice for our great nation, you will not be forgotten. You will not be neglected. You will be honored as you honorably served. This nation will safeguard you when you are in need and protect you when your health limits your ability to do so for yourself. This is the least we can do for those willing to give their all in our common defense. This is our sworn duty for all who served this nation.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that he is from Princeton and Harvard either. Nor does it hurt that he ran million dollar budgets in his organization that rival most businesses. I am most impressed with the ten years he has served veterans since coming home. Not the quantity of time but the quality of his service. Tough fights. Unpopular fights. Important fights.

And the degrees he earned at Universities like Kabul, Baghdad and Samarra impress me far more than any Ivy League school he attended.

Hegseth is not the best choice to run the VA, he is the ONLY choice. If a swamp ever needed to be drained, that swamp is the VA.

The VA has become a jobs program for career government servants. Not an organization that provides loans, education grants, housing, world-class medical care and transparent ratings for combat-related injuries.

We don’t need to be reminded of what we lost in combat. We need to be cared for in a way that establishes pride and honor.

Trust needs to be restored. A washed-up Senator, a fired CEO or bean counting Admiral is not what we need in 2016.

If this causes you to want to go to war with the Trump Administration or those on the side of change because Pete Hegseth takes this broken institution over… well, friends, pack your MREs.

Pete Hegseth is my choice to fix what more than 30 years of neglect and bureaucracy has destroyed.

Staff Sergeant David Bellavia spent six years in the U.S. Army Infantry, including some of the most intense fighting of the Iraq War. He has been awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq, and recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and nominated for The Medal of Honor for his actions in Fallujah. In 2005, he received the Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State’s highest award for military valor) and was the first New York State resident inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.

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