When it comes to making profoundly stupid bureaucratic decisions, the Department of Veterans Affairs is often in a class by itself. When VA bureaucrats aren't losing laptops with millions of veterans' personal data or forgetting to include Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in their budget calculations, they are giving themselves obscene raises. For all the hard working doctors and nurses in VA hospitals and clinics across the country, it's a real shame that some top level VA officials are dragging the VA name through the mud.
Today we have one more bureaucratic blunder to add to the list. The VA has banned voter registration at veterans' nursing homes and homeless shelters. The irony is almost too great. Disabled veterans, who have made such tremendous sacrifices in defense of democracy, are now being denied assistance in voting.
The VA is claiming that voter registration drives are partisan, and would interfere with the functioning of their facilities. But hundreds of nonpartisan organizations regularly participate in voter registration drives -everyone from the League of Women Voters to the Elks Club. Helping people vote is a civic duty, not a partisan activity.
And if voter registration drives interfere with an institution's functioning, someone should tell the Texas Hospital Association and the American Medical Student Association, both of whom run voter registration campaigns at hospitals and clinics. The "Rx: Vote Campaign," run by the National Physicians Alliance, argues:
"Without exercising the right to vote, patients and those who care for them lack the power to improve the health of their communities. As a result, patients' health, and the health of our democracy, suffer. The nation's community health centers, clinics, and hospitals have a unique ability and responsibility to empower patients to participate in the democratic process."
If doctors believe voter registration drives can and should be happening at their hospitals, why can't the VA accept voter registration at their facilities?
The VA doesn't have a leg to stand on morally or legally. But if the VA refuses to budge, Congress will have to act quickly to overrule the VA, before veterans start missing their states' voter registration deadlines.
It should not take an act of Congress for the VA to admit they made a mistake. But until they do, hospitalized veterans like Martin O'Nieal, "a 92-year-old man who lost a leg while fighting the Nazis in the mountains of Northern Italy," will have to struggle to exercise the very rights they helped defend on the field of battle.