And is the disability wait time scandal really a matter of a lack of funding by Congress? As I wrote in 2013, 67 U.S. senators, including 34 Democrats, sent a letter to the President asking him to resolve this travesty. “In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2,000 percent, despite a 40 percent increase in the VA’s budget,” wrote the congressmen at the time. “As a reminder, during this same time period, Congress has given VA everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees; however, this has not eliminated the backlog of claims.” The budget for the VA was $140 billion for 2013, second only to the Department of Defense. Clearly, there is a lack of leadership in this area; how far to the top does it ascend?
And in April, the Republican-dominated House Ways and Means Committee “fully fund[ed] a request from the Obama administration to spend $173 million on a VA benefit management system, which aims to allow for a faster, paperless process to handle disability claims.” (The VA has promised to eliminate its backlog by 2015.)
This ball is in the President’s court, not that of Congress.
“Critics, however, say the shrinking backlog is something of a farce, the result of an administrative maneuver that has not delivered results for the veterans in the backlog, but has instead moved them into a different waiting line,” write two authors for the National Journal. “As of May 10, the VA’s number of appealed claims stood at 274,660, almost 100,000 more than the 174,891 appeals in late 2009.”
The third wait list—the number of appeals for veteran disability benefits—is increasing due to errors in initial processing, according to the National Journal. And, it reports, “Once in the appeals process, veterans can wait in limbo for an average of two and a half years.”
Consider the way that the veterans’ health care providers have dealt with scheduling, for an eye-opening perspective. According to witnesses at the June 9 hearing, a veteran is often “blind scheduled” months out for an appointment, a process that fails to account for a veteran’s personal schedule. Veterans then might receive their notification of an appointment by mail instead of by phone. According to Dr. Debra A. Draper, representing the GAO, this notification letter sometimes arrived after the appointment had been missed; or, if the address was wrong, the veteran may never have received a notification at all. Then these veterans are marked down as no-shows for missing their appointments, which they’ve waited so long for in the first place—wasting everyone’s time and resources.
All of these veteran problems need to be addressed by the President and the media, not just the most sensational one.
This commentary originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: Official US Navy Page (Flickr)
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