Our nation’s veterans – the men and women who have served so honorably – are being treated dishonorably when they file for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As of last week, just under 600,000 claims were defined as backlogged, or pending for more than 125 days. That is appalling. Some veterans groups and members of Congress have called for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Trouble at the VA is nothing new, of course, and stretches back decades. Most recently was the troubling lapse that allowed staff at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center and other facilities to improperly reuse insulin pens on multiple patients.
Just a couple of months ago, news hit that the department can’t even handle its money properly. According to an internal report, it handed out $2.2 billion in mistaken payments last year. To paraphrase Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., not only did the department give money to people who didn’t deserve it, but payments were not made to those who are deserving. The department got back less than a percent of those mistaken payments.
Whatever is ailing the VA isn’t going to get fixed quickly and there are plenty of issues to target, but the first step has to be putting the welfare of our veterans first.
The VA is relying on new technology, which involves an upgrade of its computer systems and digitization of records, to solve its growing problems. Shinseki promises that by 2015 the VA will be able to process all claims within 125 days.
Critics doubt that such an enormous problem can be solved so quickly, but even if it is, it will be cold comfort to the 600,000 veterans (and their families) who have been waiting for help more than three months and in many cases much longer. The outcry is increasing. Soon, it will be deafening.
The problems started long before Shinseki took office, but they’re his problems now. He has to treat this as a crisis – which it is – and decide how to devote more resources to fixing it now, not in 2015. If not, the barrage of attacks on the former four-star general and Army chief of staff will continue. And his time will run out.
Because our veterans deserve better, perhaps that wouldn’t be the worst scenario.