V.A. mea culpa, big time

V.A. mea culpa, big time

Whoa, Nellie! I really stepped in it with both feet last week. Even though I am just a lowly columnist and not a reporter, you'd think I'd at least get some facts before I sat down at the keyboard.

But I didn't, and I made a huge mistake: I gave out untruths and reasoned from them in a particularly egregious way. It was downright Brownbackian in its scope and falseness.

For those of you who missed it, I drove by the VA hospital near my house and looked over to see what the construction was all about. I was a bit chafed by being awakened at or around 7 in the morning by the sounds of heavy equipment backing up. My Angela Bassett didn't seem to be bothered by the beeping, but I was.

Anyway, I saw what appeared to be parking lot covers in the lots to the north of the VA buildings at the Dole Center. I remarked that the expenditure was the opposite of what was needed: a streamlined facility for immediate care and treatment of vets. Boy howdy, I couldn't have been more wrong.

It isn't like I haven't been wrong before. I got married once. But this time, it was driven home to me how far off I had been the very next day. Last Friday the Wichita Eagle printed an article laying out the particulars of the construction at the VA. Coincidence? Maybe, but in it the spokesperson for the Dole Center kicked my journalistic ass. Hard. Didn't mention me or even say the article was prompted by some monkey with a typewriter and too much time on his hands, but I certainly think that, with every justification, the article punted my posterior into next week.

How could anyone in his right mind criticize a new generator to keep things humming when one of our prairie storms knocks out the power? It will even be portable so that it can be moved to another site when there is a critical need for electricity.

What I had offhandedly called parking lot covers are actually solar panels, the article said. They are a part of President Obama's 2011 Green Building Initiative. While costing the Veterans Administration a cool $5 million, the panels will save, according to the article, up to $200,000.

They will provide up to 1.6 kilowatts of power when working at peak efficiency.

My neighbor, an aeronautical engineer, says that he doubts that the panels will either pay for themselves in the 25 year projection or hold up to the wind and hail that we are all so familiar with. I am inclined to give the government planners the benefit of the doubt, but the panels will be the third thing I check (after my roof and car) after the next big hail.

The real centerpiece of the construction project is a patient care facility which will be organized into pods so that all of the types of patient treatment will be readily available in one location. This seems to me exactly what the Congress had in mind when, in the wake of the Phoenix revelations, they allotted large sums to cut waiting lists and streamline patient care. It sounds like a good use of funds.

The one time that I accompanied a friend into the VA, it seemed a labyrinth into which a client could disappear if not well guided. This will be a big improvement.

So I was wrong. Really wrong. Wrong — though not on an "Iran has weapons of mass destruction" scale, but still wrong. And I apologize. Mea culpa. I'm not sure if I ever had any credibility, but now I may be completely unbelievable. I can only hope that my article reminded the VA and government in general to make information available, especially to clients and folks in the neighborhood. On the other hand, maybe nobody even read my piece of crap opinion, and F5 is destined for the bottom of the gerbil cage.

There you go. I feel better. I still may not be able to sleep late because of the back up warnings from the heavy equipment, but I will have a clearer conscience.

See, Governor Sam, I was wrong; I apologized, and it didn't kill me. Now you.