From Battlefield to Bureaucracy

Media Firestorm Engulfs VBA as Claim Delay and Crisis Continues.   

When Veterans return home from battlefield, the last thing they expect is a protracted conflict with bureaucrats and mountains of paperwork.

So, while much of the press coverage last week focused narrowly on the causes of the Iraq War, which began ten years ago this month, a small band of brothers and sisters “Stormed the Hill.”

Young veterans urged Congress to fix the beleaguered disability claim processing offices within the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  Leading the advocacy cavalry charge is Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who wrote an essay published by CNN last weekend.

To make their point, IAVA shared a vivid example of the severe economic impact of VBA’s claim delay and error crisis: a poignant essay by a Iraq War Veteran’s spouse.

The level of media coverage about VBA became so intense even Jon Stewart’s “Daily Report” featured a segment on VBA’s “Red Tape” problems on Wednesday, March 27.

On Sunday, March 24, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared on CNN and took tough questions from news anchor Candy Crowley.  This was the first time Shinseki had agreed to sit for an interview in four years.

The Washington Post critically reviewed Shinseki’s performance.  “Pressed on why the VA hasn’t been able to deal with the claims more quickly,” the Post wrote, “Shinseki offered few answers.”  The surge of new and re-opened disability claims continues outpacing VBA’s ability process claims in an accurately or timely manner.

While the individual stories and the response of VA leadership are important, the trends among Veterans appear very ominous.  As of December 2012, 900,000 Veterans who deployed to the war zones since 9/11 have been treated at VA hospitals and clinics.  At the current rate, VA will have nearly one million patients and claims from current war Veterans by the end of 2013.

Among the new Veteran patients, 262,000 were diagnosed by VA with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The current rate of PTSD reached nearly 30 percent.

VA reports reveal 11,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war Veteran patients flood into VA hospitals and clinics each month.  That’s up from the prior rate of 10,000 per month during 2012.  Each month, a slightly smaller number of new Veterans’ disability claims also flood into the overwhelmed Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which is already collapsing under an avalanche of paperwork.

Never before has such a conflagration engulfed VBA, including top leaders.  Will it be enough?

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