Speeches on Memorial Day usually focus on remembering the men and women who have died while serving in the military.


But this year, there was another topic that received a lot of mentions during a Monday morning service at the Aiken County Veterans Memorial Park on Richland Avenue.


S.C Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and Retired Marine Corps Col. Gus Fitch all talked about the growing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs scandal.


Both Young and Taylor touched on the subject briefly after discussing the importance of Memorial Day's purpose.


“Let us not forget that we, the public, must insist that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs do a better job of providing services and benefits to our heroes,” Young said. “They earned those benefits.”


Taylor called the Veterans Affairs controversy “shameful.”


Then Fitch stepped up to the podium and warned the audience that he was going to “dampen the celebration.”


He filled the air with angry words about the agency that is under fire because of accusations involving delays in medical care, cover-ups of veterans' deaths linked to those delays and mismanagement.


Fitch also blamed political leaders, and Americans in general, for contributing to the problem because of their lack of concern.


“The current scandals flying around the VA are indicative of a variety of ills brought on by decades of red tape, self-serving bureaucratic regulations and rules, and an audible sense of screaming apathy on the part of our president, both houses of Congress and, most specifically, the population of our nation,” Fitch said.


“When there is a camera or microphone handy, many will jump to the lights and swear up and down that they support all aspects of the VA's programs,” Fitch continued. “Words. Just words. Nothing is ever done to resolve the systematic and bureaucratic morass that is the VA.”


Fitch discussed six issues that he believes need to be tackled in an effort to improve the situation.


“The entire structure of the VA's bureaucratic organization must be dissolved and replaced by a team of workers who have been hired and will work in an environment in which rules and regulations are installed with the single motive to serve the veteran in a swift and professional manner befitting any loyal and selfless employee,” he said.


Among Fitch's other recommendations were barring service unions from the agency and withholding Veterans Affairs bonuses for five years or until the entire claims backlog is reduced to 90 days. In addition, Fitch said that Congress should provide hands-on oversight and conduct cyclical audits to ensure that veterans' needs are met “quickly and professionally.”


The Marine Corps League's James L. Hammons Detachment No. 939 was in charge of the Memorial Day service at Veterans Park.


The event also included an appearance by the Aiken Department of Public Safety's color guard, performances of patriotic music by the AAA Homeschool Band and the placing of a red, white and blue wreath in front of the park's memorial wall.


“I'm here because I am a veteran, and because I want to honor those who sacrificed their lives for us so that we could be free,” said Ginny Laorenza, a former Air Force nurse who sat in a red-white-and-blue chair and wore a white shirt that had red and blue stars and stripes on it.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.