On April 26, 2012, sixty-seven senators sent a bipartisan plea to President Barack Obama which urged him to end the veteran’s benefits backlog through his “direct and public involvement” in fixing such an incredibly high backlog in disability claims:
After a decade of war, and despite the VA’s efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog. While the average wait time for first time disability claims currently ranges between 316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer – 681 days in Reno, 642 in New York, 625 in Pittsburgh, 619 in Los Angeles, 612 in Indianapolis, 586 in Houston, and 510 in Philadelphia. In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA.
In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2000%, despite a 40% increase in the VA’s budget. 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. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations.
In many ways, the President is extremely good at making promises, yet actions usually speak louder than words. As the Washington Times revealed after this Veteran’s Day, the number of pending benefits claims is around 700,000 with an average wait time of 300 days. According to VA public reports, the average wait time for the veteran, or spouse, or any dependent children to receive benefits is 273 days. Conversely, the examination of internal VA data shows veterans who file their first claim have to wait about two more months to between 316 and 327 days, and sadly, for those veterans living in larger metropolitan areas, the wait is nearly two times longer.
This is a horrific tragedy, yet far too few Americans are even aware of this scandal. Obama, the candidate, found it easy to identify the problem, and easy to promise that he would fix the “broken VA bureaucracy.” However, the truth is quite the opposite. Even in last Monday’s Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama was again delivering a “have-to-do” mantra:
“We make sure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world,” he declared while standing in the “sacred space” of Arlington’s graves.
”We have to devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world…”
Such words do make sense to most Americans, yet such words ring hollow in light of the VA ineptitude. The simple truth is that the energy and passion required to solve the VA backlog may involve more than obvious observations in flowery speeches. The Washington Times article provided a startling revelation that:
“In 1997, the VA had about 5,000 field employees, each of whom was able to process about 135 claims per year, according to department budget submissions and Government Accountability Office reports. In 2012, the VA has about three times as many field employees, each accomplishing only about half the work and processing an estimated 73 claims per year.”
In reality, the patriots and families who often depend on such benefits as payments for basic needs are more than mere statistics. These Americans face very real economic problems each day they do not receive their benefits. Reports indicate that some become homeless without their benefits and a substantial support system; some die before they get their benefits. Some have been known to commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness. Mere words do not solve the very real problems of patriots who volunteered to serve this nation in a time of global turmoil. Those who deserve the nation’s gratitude often become trapped in a system of bureaucratic ineptitude.
Ironically, such ineptitude revealed in a local neighborhood medical clinic would probably warrant a government investigation and likely closure of the facility. Unfortunately, the backlog of benefits for the nation’s veterans is more frightening than one may initially realize. Many Americans may not realize that the VA represents the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation. In one way, it can be viewed as a model of a much larger is indeed a tragedy.
The way the Obama Administration has handled the mess involving the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation is indeed a tragedy. Yet, with the advent of Obamacare, citizens within the U.S., in a very short time, may have to deal with many of the same issues that the veterans are being forced to deal with right now.
The fundamental premise of Obamacare is that the federal government is more capable than the private sector in handling the health insurance claims and real medical needs of the nation. Another simplistic recognition of the problem of health insurance and flowery “have-to” speeches are no guarantee that Obama’s Administration is capable of “fixing” the myriad of problems in the way healthcare is administered in the U.S. If the current history of the administration’s efforts at “fixing” the VA backlog is any indication of competency, people in America are in for a long and literally painful ordeal. The problems with the Obamacare website will seem quite rudimentary based upon such an abysmal track record.