VA Backlog: Get Off Your Duff

The VA has been frought with problems since it was created. The problems at the VA are not so much medical care as access to that care. Each presidential administration has, in one way or another attempted to improve the process of determining eligibility with some administrations creating special committees to address the issues. None of these actions has ever made much of a difference. In recent times, the result of more and more military combat activity, the system has been loaded down with more and more veterans needing the assistance the VA was created for. While the VA claims it is being overloaded, the truth is that the claims are being under-processed. Not only that, there are no standards in place and that results in different process with different policies depending on where a veteran files a claim. As time has gone by, a matter which has fairly simple criteria has been turned into a complex and unreliable morass of conundrums and failures.

First and foremost our presidents and congress are failing to properly forecast the costs of putting boots on the ground in harm’s way. They look to the logistics of moving personnel and materiels into position, but look less to the costs of maintaing and supplying those boots, and not at all to the post-combat costs of dealing with injuries and illnesses that result from the actions. Right from the get-go potential veterans are being shorted even before they get their orders to go fight. The American public has been made well aware that our soldiers are not being adequately supported while in operational war theaters and they’re being told that lack of support is amplified harshly when they return. A lot is being said about the issues but little more than lip service is being paid to the needs of those who have sacrificed themselves on the battlefield only to be sacrificed when they return home. This is an outrage, a recognized outrage, yet it continues on and on to the point it has become a sick and disgusting tradition.

In a world where companies like UPS and FedEx can track a single envelope position down to square inches, there is no excuse for a government agency to lose track of individuals who have lost elements of their quality of life to benefit the nation. In Vietnam, the soldiers who needed care could rely on the fact that the Dustoff medivac crews would brave any situation to see wounded soldiers got that care in a timely manner. That happened because the soldiers were made priority one with all other issues taking a backseat. That dedication and committment needs to be revitalized and applied to the wounded warriors who’ve come home to enjoy the freedoms they fought for. I can think of no excuse that they not receive it. We’ve spent trillions of dollars and penned new laws to rehabilitate financial institutions that failed due to greed yet we seem unable to act with similar speed and dedication for those whose rehabilitation is founded in giving their all to the benefit of the nation rather than their bank accounts. 

We live in an era where computers can handle competently the tedium of repetitious processing while applying incredibly complex conditions. To hand process veteran claims in this day and age is ridiculous –as is relying on paper records. Computers will process and make determinations based solely on presented criteria while manually processing is subject to the moods, dedication and physical and mental conditions of those doing the processing. While we’d like to think that the administrative employees of the Department of Veteran Affairs are concientious and dedicated people, the truth is that only part of them are. Part of them also don’t belong doing the job they’re doing for one reason or another. Add to that the workers are paid the same regardless of their productivity and accuracy, even given bonuses anually, it’s easy to see that we’re paying for and encouraging failure. This is unacceptable when 20 veterans are taking their own lives each and every day because they simply aren’t getting the support they need, support they EARNED. This nation flew flags and mourned the loss of almost 3000 people on 9/11, and then accepted the huge changes, sacrifice of freedoms and costs to try to ensure the loss was never again repeated. 7200 veterans are dying by their own hands every year and have been for more than a decade and we seem to accept this; we must accept it since we aren’t fixing the problem. And those 7200 are just those who take their own lives –just think of how many veterans are not getting the support and care they need!

The system can be fixed. Moving the system of eligibility into the digital realms would take about two years. This entails that the current paperwork be converted to digital media, a task that is large but addressable. Hiring a temporary pool of typists and clerical workers would leave existing employees to process claims backlogs as well as new claims. A beginning for this has already been achieved with the inception of the online benefits system put in place over the last two years. As the records for old cases are digitized, they can be processed by the new digital system, thus speeding the process. There is absolutely no reason why it should take more than a few minutes to process a claim and get the veterans into the system. All it takes is a committment on the part of the president and congress and their willingness to fund the process. Actions have always spoken louder than words and this situation is no different. It is incomprehensible that our representatives in government act like deer in headlights when it comes to doing what it takes to honor the nation’s promises to those who suffer exquisitely on her behalf.