An open letter to Dr. Ben Carson

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Dr. Carson,

I write to you today as a 21-year-old college student living in Birmingham. I write not to argue or criticize, nor to donate money to your campaign or hold a “Carson 2016” sign. I write, simply, with a message. You are quite an interesting character. I have been watching your presidential campaign with intrigue, because you are not quite like the other 16 Republicans seeking the presidency. You are deemed a “Washington outsider,” and that title comes with the liabilities of inexperience in public service as well as the assets of trustworthiness and invigorating new ideas in the eyes of voters. The only other major “outsider” in this race is currently leading the pack, but I don’t see him outlasting you or almost any other serious candidate (although as I write this, Rick Perry is likely starting an IndieGoGo page to keep funding his campaign). Your supporters are adamant that you are the man for the job, citing your common sense approach to problems and your fresh perspective on government that is seen as unparalleled and exciting. Your soft-spoken, calm demeanor has certainly caught my attention. I have loved some of your statements, and vehemently disagreed with others, so I am keeping an open mind as I write this letter.

In all the flurry of Trumpmania, I feel that your campaign (and almost every other campaign in the GOP race, for that matter) has been unfortunately muffled when it comes to policy proposals. That notwithstanding, an article in Politico still managed to grab my attention, and I’d like to discuss it. In an interview with talk radio host Dave Ramsey last week, you proposed taking the Department of Veterans Affairs and integrating its services and employees into the Pentagon. I believe the exact quote in your statement was that “it should be a smooth transition.” The article instantly made me question voting for you in 2016, should you receive the nod from the Republican National Committee. This may seem like a knee-jerk reaction on my part, so allow me to explain.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I wholeheartedly believe the Department of Veterans Affairs is terrible. There is no way around it, and no sugarcoating the issue. It is simply a dysfunctional, broken department that has been through scandal after scandal in the past few years. Any veteran or family member of a veteran will likely agree. Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch for the horrific stories we have heard of veterans dealing with the V.A. My own grandfather was a Vietnam veteran who now faces a myriad of health issues. He served his country during the Vietnam War, and I have witnessed the Department of Veterans Affairs consistently let him and my family down for decades.

I have dealt with the Department of Veterans Affairs for years. I have witnessed them shuffle my grandfather two hours away to a V.A. hospital time after time, because the hospital he was already admitted to wasn’t good enough, and his condition wasn’t already serious without a shaky, terrifying ambulance ride down I-59. I have witnessed nurses in a V.A. hospital ignore him time after time, as he called for help. In one particular case, the issue became so prevalent that the doctors had to reprimand the nurses for not properly doing their jobs, all in front of my grandparents, who were essentially helpless. I have witnessed my grandfather lay in a hospital for weeks on end because the V.A. failed to realize that they had placed him on a medication that built up in his system over 15 years and eventually caused so much pain in his legs that he was unable to stand on his own. I have witnessed my grandmother speaking with dozens of people in the V.A. financial offices because the department refused to pay a hospital bill that they already affirmed they would pay. The V.A. has caused an immeasurable amount of stress and hardship on my family, all because of bureaucracy. Trust me, I am no fan of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I say in the same breath, however, that I fundamentally think it would be a mistake to fold the V.A. into the Department of Defense. I do not believe it would be a “smooth transition,” for a multitude of reasons. Not only would it wreak havoc on the government agencies that already exist under the DoD, it would cause mass panic with veterans who are already struggling to get the care they need from a broken system designed specifically to help them. The V.A. is by no means a strong, working organization. But the idea of shuttling it into a different department, one that has no experience or expertise when it comes to providing quality healthcare, is not an idea I can stand behind. The Department of Defense is a war machine. Period. Its mission is “to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” Just to be clear, that quote was taken directly from the Pentagon’s website. Notice how it says nothing about caring for those who return from war. That is not the job of the Department of Defense, nor has it ever been. I do not believe that more bureaucracy will help the officials at the V.A. make the changes necessary for them to provide quality healthcare to our veterans. The V.A. needs organization, new technology, and better management, not someone else to answer to in a hierarchy of government departments. 

This is a deeply personal issue for me, as my grandfather risked his life so that I might still be able to live freely in this great nation. Many of his fellow soldiers lost their lives right in front of him, in one of the most gruesome wars in U.S. history. He has suffered more than most can even imagine, but to jeopardize his only source of medical care would destroy everything he fought — and nearly died — for. 

Never mind that such an act could never realistically be done; it would meet such resistance from Congress and the American people that it wouldn’t last five minutes in an actual discussion from a sitting president. Never mind that this is a very early suggestion made on a talk radio show, over a year before the actual election for president takes place. What truly matters is whether you intend to pursue this course as a viable solution to the healthcare issues facing veterans today. I will tell you that, should you propose this measure as a major part of your platform, I will, with all due respect, not be voting for you in 2016. I cannot in good conscience vote for an administration that would cause even more undue hardship on my family and on the families of veterans across the United States, in an attempt to appeal to conservative “small government” advocates.

Make no mistake, I’m not a fan of “big” government. But I also think we need to have a more substantive debate in this country, not about big or small government, but about government that works properly. I want a functional government, built in the 21st century, with better infrastructure, new technologies, and advanced methods that get the job done. I want a government that owns up to its mistakes, and works to fix them as often as possible. I want a government that does not seek, whether intentionally or systemically, to benefit any one group of people over another, whatever their race, wealth, age, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. If the opinions of a humble college student mean anything, that is what this election is about. It is not about Trump or Clinton or Bush. It is not about name brands or funny hair or “he said, she said” arguments that are reminiscent of a third grade playground fight. It is, fundamentally, an election that will shape our course of governance for the next four or even eight years. I do not take this notion lightly, and I do not believe that I should vote in opposition to how I believe our government and our country should be operated. More specifically, I cannot and will not vote against my conscience and against the best interests of my family and the millions of brave men and women who have devoted their lives to serving this country.

As I began writing this, I had originally planned to entitle it “In Defense of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” but I realized around the second paragraph that this is about more than the V.A. This is about your stake in the Republican nomination race. At least for this voter, this is a defining moment for you. I deeply respect you, even if I disagree with some of your statements and opinions. You are clearly a man of faith and a man of principle, and I applaud you for that. I believe you have struck a real nerve with Americans who are not satisfied with sub-par leaders in every party who, in the end, are disingenuous and help only themselves. I hope that you are able to capitalize on that legitimate sentiment, because it speaks volumes about the American political system and how voters truly feel. 

I will continue to watch your campaign, and I look forward to seeing you in the upcoming Republican primary debates. You have my attention, Dr. Carson. But as of yet, you do not have my vote.

Thank you

Justin Marden


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