Agency Leaders Offer Only Meek Apologies and Excuses
In a truly poignant TV interview, eight Arizona Veterans revealed their growing frustration, and even suicidal thoughts, caused by the Veterans Benefits Administration’s continuing failure to process Veterans’ disability claims in a timely and accurate manner. One veteran mentioned how he hoped to get VA care for his terminal condition.
The local TV station devoted two long newscasts to air grievances by Veterans against a broken VBA.
In response to the Veterans’ justifiable outrage, the local news investigator aired a third broadcast. In the last segment, VBA’s Phoenix regional office director, Sandra Flint, granted a rare interview with Melissa Blasius at 12 News. Although she is sympathetic towards the plight of Veterans, Flake offered only apologies and excuses, saying it was up to VBA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, to fix the disaster using new computer systems. Her only pragmatic solution was hiring additional claims processors. VA’s Deputy Secretary, Scott Gould, appears briefly in the news segment, also making promises of VBA reform and acknowledging the situation may get worse before it improves.
New York Times Reported Issue Three Years Ago
The issue of VBA delays and errors causing tremendous emotional distress and even suicidal thoughts is an old issue well known among Veterans, Congress, and reporters. The New York Times interviewed Bergmann & Moore’s Paul Sullivan about this subject in July 2009.
One group, Veterans for Common Sense, has obtained [VA] records showing that some veterans are calling [VA] suicide hotlines to talk about their delayed disability claims. The group has called on the department to replace Veterans Benefits Administration leaders. “We’re not saying vets are threatening to commit suicide over the claims issues,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of the group. “We’re saying V.A.’s claim situation is so bad that it is exacerbating veterans’ already difficult situations.”
National News Prompts Local Coverage
The television newscast is not the first investigation into the beleaguered Phoenix office. In October, the East Valley Tribune highlighted the plight of a veteran.
With 23,000 claims pending in Phoenix, and a total of 900,000 nationwide, VBA continues drowning in a swamp of paper, with no end in sight. At a disturbing eleven months, Phoenix is below VBA’s national standard of eight months to process a new claim. More than three quarters of Veterans’ disability claims gathering dust in Phoenix languish longer than three months, according to VBA’s Monday Morning Workload Report published on November 19, 2012.
Time for Action, Not Apologies
In the past year, reporters and Congress repeatedly highlighted major VBA claim processing disasters in California, Texas, and Arizona. VBA leaders continually tell Congress the agency has enough staffing and other resources to meet the tidal wave of demand. However, the evidence from Phoenix clearly demonstrates that VBA does not have what it needs to process claims accurately or quickly. When Veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), or unemployability, VBA’s chronic delays and errors frequently worsen Veterans’ mental health conditions.
Here’s the bottom line: how many more disabled Veterans need to go on TV and discuss their suicidal thoughts caused by VBA’s chronic delays and errors until VBA finally solves this crisis? How many more of our Veterans will die of terminal conditions while waiting?