Saturday, March 23, 2013

Suddenly reporters notice veterans are suffering?

UPDATE March 24, 2013
Shinseki says VA on target for ending backlog
By Kevin Freking
The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Mar 24, 2013
Peter Gaytan, executive director of the American Legion, emphasized that resolving disability claims in a timely manner is an issue his organization has dealt with for decades.
WASHINGTON — Although the number of pending veterans’ disability claims keep soaring, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Sunday said he’s committed to ending the backlog in 2015 by replacing paper with electronic records.

Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. About 600,000 claims, or 70 percent, are considered backlogged. The number of claims pending for more than 125 days has nearly quadrupled under Shinseki’s watch.

Shinseki told CNN’s “State of the Union” that a decade of war and efforts to make it easier for veterans to collect compensation for certain illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder have driven the backlog higher during his tenure. He said that doing away with paper records will be the key to a turnaround.

Shinseki said that the VA has puts its new computer system in place in 20 regional offices around the country and all regional offices will be on the system by the end of the year.

“This has been decades in the making, 10 years of war. We’re in paper, we need to get out of paper,” Shinseki said. The Defense Department and other agencies still file paper claims, he said, but “we have commitments that in 2014 we will be electronically processing our data and sharing it.”
read more here
Suddenly reporters notice veterans are suffering?
by Kathie Costos
Wounded Times Blog
March 23, 2013

More and more reporters are suddenly discovering veterans have been suffering waiting for the VA claims to be processed. More and more are slamming the VA as if any of this is new.

Mark Flatten, "Watchdog Team" of the Washington Examiner wrote a fascinating piece on how much the VA has failed veterans. That is really strange coming now after all these years. What is even stranger is most of the people writing about the problems veterans face seem to not be aware of many facts.

For one, as Congressman Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, complains about the backlog, he doesn't seem to get it that the Congress had the responsibility to make sure that veterans received proper care even when it was a Republican in the White House. Yes, that is their job as it has always been there job even when troops were sent into Afghanistan and the lackluster debate was raging in the Congress about sending more men and women to invade Iraq, the number of disabled veterans who would need care was hardly ever mentioned. Even less mentioned was the fact this country had not taken care of veterans from past wars. Gulf War veterans were still waiting for care and answers about what they were suffering from with claims not approved because Congress had forgotten about them. Vietnam Veterans still suffering and dying from what Agent Orange was doing to them were still fighting to get the care they needed and suffered even more as their claims were rejected. They waited even longer as their PTSD claims were denied because they could not "prove" they were involved in combat operations. As President Obama issued directives to address the older veterans claims and make it right for them, Congress didn't see fit to increase the budget and allow for more staff to care for "those who had borne the battle" of the wars we sent them to fight.

2006 VA Claims
There are more than 500,000 veterans who have claims pending with the Department of Veterans Affairs for benefits, and approximately 100,000 of such claims are over one year old without resolution.

This is what was reported in 2007 by the Boston Globe
March 11, 2007

The VA is the second only to the Defense department in number of employees and manages the largest medical education and health professions training program in the United States.
Civilian Employees
VA 235,974
Dod 650,401
VA Employees
216,119 -- Health Administration
12,926 -- Benefits
1,508 -- National Cemetery System
3,308 -- Veterans Canteen Service (provide merchandise, food and vending services in VA medical centers)
442 -- Revolving Supply
8,117 -- Other
242,420 -- Total
VA Patients
Of the 24.3 million veterans currently alive, roughly 11% received disability benefits, which comes to $23.4b About 63 million people (20% of the US population) are eligible for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, family members or survivors of veterans. Rise in Patients
4.1m 2001
5.3m 2005
Backlog of claims
69,000 in 2000.
400,000 in 2007
Time to process claim 177 days
Time to process appeal 657 days

In fiscal year 2008, VA provided $38.9 billion in disability compensation, death compensation and pension to 3.7 million people. About 3.2 million veterans received disability compensation or pension from VA. In addition, about 554,700 spouses, children and parents of deceased veterans received VA benefits. Among them are 170,144 survivors of Vietnam-era veterans and 235,000 survivors of World War II veterans. As of September 30, 2008, VA had 278,565 employees on the rolls. Among all departments and agencies of the federal government, only the Department of Defense has a larger work force. Of the total number of VA employees, 247,113 were in the Veterans Health Administration, 16,135 in the Veterans Benefits Administration, 1,549 in the National Cemetery System, 3,412 in the Veterans Canteen Service and 437 in the Revolving Supply Fund. The rest, 9,919 employees, are in various staff and facilities offices.
Twenty years have passed since the start of the deployment and combat operations known as Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Since then, many Veterans of that conflict have endured adverse health consequences from the war. Of the 696,842 Service members who served in the conflict, of which approximately 7% were women, 297,555 Veterans have filed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims. As of March 2010, the VA has processed over 289,610 disability claims related to their service in these operations; 250,627 have been granted at least one service-connected condition, 38,983 claims were denied; and 7,945 claims from first time claimants are currently pending. Additionally, VA has treated over 146,445 combat Veterans, and has participated in federal research efforts on Gulf War illness totaling more than $152.1 million from VA and $400.5 Million in total Federal commitment to date. Yet through these years, many Veterans have felt disenfranchised in these efforts, and underserved by the VA. Stakeholders have been critical of VA’s culture and processes as well. The excess of unexplained medical symptoms reported by deployed 1990 -1991 Gulf War Veterans cannot be reliably ascribed to any known psychological disorder. Veterans and stakeholders have noted that VA has historically failed to recognize that undiagnosed multisymptom illness suffered by Gulf War Veterans are distinct illnesses with potentially debilitating consequences and the large numbers of Veterans affected (an estimated 175,000 to 250,000 Veterans). They have also criticized VA emphasis in its research (before 2005) and in its clinician training materials and public statements (to date), that these illnesses were related to stress or other psychiatric disorders, when scientific research indicates otherwise.
But the real thing that keeps getting missed in all of this is what happened in 2009, before President Obama's budget was put into action, before the Gulf War Veterans and Vietnam veterans had the ability to receive justice and when people were also calling for VA employees to be removed. This is not about the VA. Not about political parties because these problems with the backlog of claims happened during different administrations. This is about Congress once and for all doing the right thing for our veterans. This is from the American Legion.

During the past four months, VA’s backlog of unprocessed disability claims grew by more than 100,000, adding to an already enormous backlog that is now approaching close to one million claims. The Public Record reported in June that VA’s claims backlog, "which includes all benefits claims and all appeals at the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans Appeals at VA, was 803,000 on Jan. 5, 2009. The backlog hit 915,000 on May 4, 2009, a staggering 14-percent increase in four months."