Sunday, May 05, 2013

The VA can be hazardous to Veterans' Health


By Chriss Street

 Americans have always prioritized caring for the needs of our military Veterans.  The Continental Congress of 1776 promised pensions for any disabled veteran of the Revolutionary War.  

Despite criticism of deficit spending over the last four years, there was universal support for increasing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) budget by 41% to $140 billion this year.  That is why it is so depressing that the backlog for claims pending applications for disability doubled to over 900,000 and the number of claims delayed by over a year has skyrocketed by 2000%.  Despite this abysmal performance, senior VA executives have collected 35% bonuses on top of their lavish pay and benefits.

The ability of the VA and their 300,000 employees to provide service-related benefits is on the verge of collapse.  Congressional revelations confirm that over the last four years, the delays newly returning veterans face before receiving disability compensation and benefits are far longer than the 273 days the agency had acknowledged.  Inspection of their internal data reveals that for first-time claims, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, the wait is now averaging between 316 and 327 days.

Despite the huge increases in funding, staffing at the VA’s 58 regional offices only grew by less than 300 people since September 2010 – even as the volume of new claims increased dramatically.  The average increase in delayed claims processing seems grim, but veterans filing for the first-time in America’s major population centers wait twice as long.  Delays are 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago.  Those veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits grew from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 this December.  The error rate for claims processing now hovers around 14% and an average of 53 veterans die each day while waiting for their benefits to begin, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“I’m not surprised at the number of us that kill ourselves … You just get so hopeless”, said Lincoln Capstick an unemployed Iraq War veteran in Indiana, where the average wait is 612 days.  His electricity was cut off three times while he waited for the VA to grant a disability claim for traumatic brain injury, headaches and a variety of leg and knee injuries sustained when was run over in the desert near the Iraq-Kuwait border.  The Veteran’s Administration data reports that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

The VA blames the backlog on a 455,000 increase in the number of claims filed due to an uptick in returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and veterans requesting compensation for PTSD and Gulf War illness.  But the average veteran wait time for filing disability fell by more than a third under from 2001 to 2009, despite more than 320,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans filing new disability claims.

The VA’s disability claims processing crisis has been compounded by the department’s in-house effort to develop a high-tech Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) promising to streamline claims processing throughput by 40 to 65%.  According to a strongly wordedreport from the department’s Office of the Inspector General; after spending $537 million on a new Web-based system, 97% of veterans’ claims remain on hard-copy paper.  The Inspector General also warned the weight of paper files at the Winston-Salem, N.C., VA office has compromised the structural integrity of the building.

The computer project is designed around the twelve Agile Manifesto principals for adaptive software development that includes “Sustainable Development”.  Since the crushing report was released this January, the top two VA technology officers retired, stating that they had “accomplished their goals.”
Congress has been getting bi-partisan heat from constituents and has thrown lots of money at the VA to address the backlog.  But last week a new VA scandal broke out when it was revealed that Michael Moreland, the top regional administrator of a Pittsburgh hospital where an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease sickened 21 veterans and killed at least five, won a $62,000 bonus as a Presidential Distinguished Rank Award.  The award goes out to no more than 1% of federal executives and provides winners with a cash bonus equal to 35% of their salary.  J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing VA’s hospital workers criticized the award:  “This is absolutely unbelievable.”  If Mr. Moreland retires this year, he will be able to count the award to increase his life-time pension payments.

It is time for the American people to rally to the defense of our veterans.  Each of our respective Congressional Representatives and Senators must take personal ownership of the dangerous crisis.  Stand up for our military women and men.  CLICK THIS LINK FOR CONTACT INFORMATION SO YOU CAN HELP CONGRESS FIX THE VA !!!!!!!!!!




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