Daniel Doherty

To paraphrase the economist Thomas Sowell, some ideas are so stupid only a government agency would adopt them.

Speaking of which, this latest scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) couldn’t have come at a worse time. In an attempt to instruct government workers about how to deal effectively with disgruntled veterans unsatisfied with their health care plans, a series of informational slides meant for instruction portrayed said veterans as... this guy. For obvious reasons, it didn’t go so well.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

The beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs depicted dissatisfied veterans as Oscar the Grouch in a recent internal training guide, and some vets and VA staffers said Tuesday that they feel trashed. The cranky Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can was used in reference to veterans who will attend town-hall events Wednesday in Philadelphia.

"There is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in," said Joe Davis, a national spokesman for the VFW. “And especially to insult the VA's primary customer." The 18-page slide show on how to help veterans with their claims, presented to VA employees Friday and obtained by The Inquirer, also says veterans might be demanding and unrealistic and tells VA staffers to apologize for the "perception" of the agency.

Meanwhile, the VA’s statement on the controversy itself was somewhat mystifying:

"The training provided was not intended to equate veterans with this character," spokeswoman Marisa Prugsawan said. "It was intended to remind our employees to conduct themselves as courteously and professionally as possible when dealing with veterans and their concerns."

She said the guide appeared to be an old internal document from which employees at the Philadelphia office pulled information ahead of Friday's training. Prugsawan said she was unsure if the original slide show comparing veterans to Oscar had been created locally or by the national VA office and sent to regional centers.

And yet, the department saw fit to portray veterans as a cantankerous Sesame Street character. That doesn’t strike me as very “courteous.”

For what it’s worth, Concerned Veterans for America spokesman Pete Hegseth vented his frustration to my colleague Ed Morrissey earlier this week about the controversy. He provided some much-needed insight into this wholly preventable -- and ridiculous -- episode:

I reached out to Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans for America, who said that this exposes “the dirty little secret about how many VA officials feel about veterans.” They see veterans as the problem, not the clients. “If veterans were seen as customers, they wouldn’t be seen as Oscar the Grouch,” Pete said. “This feeds the fears about how veterans believe they are perceived at the VA.” He assured me that CV4A will not let this slide, either.

They shouldn’t -- and neither should we.


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography