The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a VA internal training program depicts veterans as Oscar the Grouch, the angry green Sesame Street character who lives in a trash can. This comes in light of Congressional efforts to fix 20140828_inq_svets28-jthe VA’s “broken” healthcare system. One of the most troubling allegations against the scandal-plagued VA is its inability to provide adequate services to veterans who are depressed, traumatized, suicidal, or living in a state of homelessness.

The program was developed as a multi-media presentation in Philadelphia to train VA staff working with veterans who are trying to access their benefits. It includes the wording, “What to say to Oscar the Grouch,” and the cartoon character is depicted multiple times as if he were a veteran seeking help in the presentation, which may have been used in other VA sites across the country.

“The training provided was not intended to equate veterans with this character,” said Marisa Prugsawan of the Philadelphia VA Benefits Office in a puzzling statement which did not identify the persons in charge of creating and disseminating the program. “It was intended to remind our employees to conduct themselves as courteously and professionally as possible when dealing with veterans and their concerns.”

Veterans and their organizations are outraged. “There is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in,” stated Joe Davis, VFW director of public affairs. “And especially to insult the VA’s primary customer.”

The VA itself, whose hospital administrators were found to have imposed unnecessary waits on would-be patients at 64% of 216 VA facilities (per a recent White House audit), was referred to as “a dysfunctional system” as Congress passed a new law requiring the VA to undergo a top-to-bottom investigation with the aim of rebuilding its capacity to meet the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.

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