More horror stories and scathing editorials from coast to coast.
The intensifying perfect storm of Congressional and media attention continues engulfing the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the beleaguered agency within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsible for processing Veterans’ disability claims.
In military terms, journalists are on target and firing for effect in a target rich environment never before subjected to sustained media coverage, prompted by the indefatigable news reporting of Aaron Glantz at the Bay Citizen.
Even comedian Jon Stewart at The Daily Show broadcast a second humorous segment blasting VBA this past week. But there’s nothing funny about nearly 20,000 Veterans dying last year while waiting for a VBA claim decision.
A Google search of “VA claims backlog” resulted in nearly 4,000 news hits. Here’s a sample of the media and Congressional firestorm.
- Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune, profiled Eldridge Butler, a Florida veteran of the Korean conflict, who doesn’t have enough income to pay his bills. “I ain’t even bought groceries in three weeks,” said Butler. Bergmann & Moore’s Paul Sullivan told Highlands Today that veterans are “are justifiably frustrated at the deteriorating claims crisis, especially the lack of planning to fix it.”
- The Portland Oregonian interviewed veteran Brian Mumey, a Veteran injured in a bomb blast in Iraq in 2004. After waiting for three years, Mumey said VBA is “overwhelmed.”
- The National Journal was righteously sarcastic, No Wonder Why Claims With Veterans Affairs Take Several Hundred Days to Process. Editor Brian Resnick stated that 97 percent of claims are still kept in bulky paper files, while VBA insists new computer systems are in half of VBA offices. “When the VA looks like a hoarder’s den, that can’t be good,” Resnick wrote. “The stacks upon stacks of files have created an unsafe working environment at the Winston-Salem office. The excess weight of the stored files has the potential to compromise the structural integrity of the sixth floor of the facility.”
- The Fort Bragg Patch reported this past week that at the regional office in Winston-Salem, which has the second-longest wait times in the southeast, more than 7,000 veterans have been waiting at least a year for a ruling on their claims; more than 700 veterans have waited longer than two years.
- Most of the pictures of filing cabinets are from Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina. The local newspaper reported VBA’s highly-touted new computers don’t work as promised. “A new digital Internet-based system that was supposed to speed up the processing of claims was rolled out in December in some regional offices, including Winston-Salem. But the VA’s inspector general reported in February that the new system is plagued with problems.”
- One newspaper published in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, hit the nail on the head, placing part the blame on VBA’s lack of planning after nearly 12 years of war in Southwest Asia combined with new science linking Agent Orange with serious medical problems. “Part of the backlog is attributed to the influx of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as to additional conditions — Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and leukemias — that are now covered and affect many Vietnam era veterans.”
- KWTX Television in Western Texas reported this past week that older veterans have a tougher time than younger ones when dealing with the claims backlog. Coast Guard veteran Jacqueline English, 52, told KWTX her relationship with the current VA claims system as “disastrous.” She served in the Coast Guard in the 1970s and has waited more than two years for her claim to be processed.
- Newspaper op-eds continue pounding away at the VBA crisis, such as the Bakersfield-Californian. The Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, wrote, “It is clear that the VA needs a comprehensive cultural change that is more results-oriented and respectful of the needs of our veterans.”
- On the national level, USA Today reports the Army spent tens of millions of dollars and doubled staffing for a joint program with VA aimed at cutting the Army’s backlog of soldiers waiting to leave the service because of being wounded, ill or injured. The number of ailing soldiers waiting to leave the service has grown from 18,000 in 2011 to more than 27,000, largely because the VA is not bringing more manpower to the task, Army officers told USA Today.
Here’s the bottom line: An agency long-ignored is now front and center in the media spotlight as Veterans, Congress, and the American public demand results and fulfillment of VBA’s promise to process all Veterans’ disability benefit claims in less than four months with an error rate of two percent (down from the current nine months and fourteen percent).