By Thomas D. Segel
There was the FEMA mess, the Homeland Security problems, and the NSA rhubarb. With all of that on its plate, it is no wonder the Republican administration and majority party in Congress have managed to ignore the many problems percolating inside the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now that last sentence is a misstatement. They have always ignored problems within the VA.
There are many who believe there is collusion between the current Administration, Congress and the VA to the detriment of the veteran and retired military community. The belief is that while pledges to establish a swifter acting, more open and service-oriented Department of Veterans Affairs are repeatedly made, the words are really just more of the same false promises veterans have heard for years. There is also a strong feeling that those elected to high office are really attempting to find ways to end or reduce earlier promised benefits to veterans.
With each passing month more and more reports about the dysfunctional VA are brought to the attention of Americans. In the March issue of VFW Magazine for example, is an article headlined “Quality No Longer ‘Job One’ For VA Claims Processing.”
The decline in performance can be traced to a lack of dedication and productivity of VA employees, says one article.
Back in 2005 Knight Ridder published an article detailing the results of its investigation into VA claims processing. In part it said, Based on an internal VA report that used staffing and overtime levels to estimate production capacity, Knight Ridder found that VA employee productivity was only 75% of what is expected. It indicates that though the agency has promised swift action on veteran health claims it is, in reality, falling further and further behind.
At the start of 2005 there were 473,869 medical claims awaiting final disposition. Instead of shrinking that workload, today there are a total of 547,411 unprocessed claims. Last year there were more than 152 thousand appeals cases to be examined. That number remains virtually unchanged today.
In 2005 a total of 92 thousand veterans were in the application process for educational benefits. This year almost 114 thousand former service personnel are still awaiting receipt of those schooling assistance awards.
Arthur A. Bernklau, Executive Director of Veterans For Constitutional Law claims Congress has passed legislation denying veterans the right to due process under the law when they were in any appeal process with the VA. When extremely unfair anti-veteran statutes were enacted, it took away veteran rights of access to a fair and impartial hearing in a real or normal court and deprived them of their Constitutional right to an attorney of their choosing. Because of these statutes, the VA has felt emboldened enough to ignore most legitimate claims, he contends. Why is it, he asks, that the VA has over 260,000 employees nation-wide and they can only approve 4% of veteran claims per year?
But, the real disgrace is the failure of our government officials to inform nearly two million veterans or their widows that they qualify for disability pensions. Those who remain unaware of their eligibility can be found mostly among the underemployed or under educated veterans. Also impacted by this neglect are deceased veteran’s widows. . This same group is also among those most in need of all those services .and least likely to receive them.
According to VFW magazine, Because they are unaware they qualify, nearly 2 million veterans or their widows are leaving an estimated $22 billion a year in VA pensions unclaimed. What the article fails to report is the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing absolutely nothing to inform those in need of the available funds.
The biggest information roadblock seems to be the VA language, which seems to result in those billions of unclaimed dollars. The VA calls the award a “disability pension” even though a person does not need to be disabled to qualify. To be eligible veterans must be age 65 or older, have served in uniform during a war and earn less than $10,579. Some veterans who have non-service connected medical conditions may also qualify. Veteran’s widows must make less than $7,094. Deducting unreimbursed medical expenses can reduce incomes to assist in meeting qualifying standards.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 853,000 veterans and 1.1 million widows are eligible to receive these pensions, but only 27% of the veterans and 14% of the qualified widows are receiving the money.
There seems to be government failing upon failing being reported in today’s news. It has reached such a deplorable state that something like an anti-veteran Department of Veterans Affairs won’t even cause a ripple in the news media wave. However, with the loudly voiced support for our troops being continuously proclaimed by Republicans and Democrats alike and the numbers of disabled veterans increasing daily, a serious question needs to be asked. How can any administration fail to take action on behalf of those who offered their lives up in service to this country? These veterans deserve far more than false promises or being delayed and denied.