The sins of the VA are legion. Denying claims as policy; stalling appointments until those pesky claimants simply die to avoid giving them care; treating those fortunate enough to get in the door like trash; intentionally destroying paperwork to appear to have cleared the backlog of unprocessed claims, the list of transgressions goes on and on.
The answers to these problems are in some ways very complex and in others, surprisingly simple.
There is no question that the VA system is broken. Perhaps even unfixable without overhauling it from the ground up. But, fixing it is not an impossible task. Nor is it something that would cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In fact, there are a few simple steps that would not only dramatically improve the overall VA system, another veteran’s issue would be positively impacted as well.
First, simply hire veterans. Particularly in clerical, intake, processing and record keeping positions. The VA, like all other government agencies, say they hire veterans. But, like too many other employers, the track record of the government in general and the VA in particular is pretty bad when it comes time to actually hire those whom they supposedly serve.
If the person sitting behind the counter when a veteran walks in the door of the VA is a veteran themselves, chances are much higher that the one seeking service will be treated with respect. Veterans are a very protective bunch, particularly when it comes to their own. So, let them take care of their own. It is not realistic to require the VA only hire veterans, but putting a veteran in charge as a supervisor of every area that directly interfaces with veterans, like at intake in the hospitals and clinics, would dramatically improve how those seeking care are treated.
Supposedly, everyone who works for the VA in intake and processing is trained to understand the paperwork. In reality, too often the person looking at the paperwork is simply checking to see if the right form has been used, not if the information on it is just not plausible. But, there is another way to ensure all applications are filed with the correct, accurate and complete information.
This may be hard to believe and in truth, falls in the ‘I can’t believe it’ category in my book. But, I’ve checked and rechecked with multiple sources, including the DoD and the VA itself.
The VA computer system and the one used by the Department of Defense are not capable of sharing information. Let me say that again. Despite millions of dollars being spent, the two computer systems are not capable of sharing information.
It is reasonable that there are two different systems, as they perform two different functions. But, once again, they are not designed to nor are they capable of sharing information. In fact, attempts at getting the two systems to work together have been abandoned as hopeless, but not until after millions upon millions were spent studying the problem. Consultants were hired. Companies were paid to complete the task. And still, the systems do not and cannot share information.
Part of the justification for this has been that medical records must be protected under HIIPA laws. But, there is no justification for VA processing clerks not being able to gather information on branch and date of service, disability rating received at discharge, medical treatments sought or received while in service and any other information needed to file and process a claim directly from the DoD (or National Personnel Records Center, if applicable) computers.
Instead, applications are filled out and copies of required paperwork are supplied by the veteran. And often promptly lost, destroyed or otherwise mishandled during the tedious process of filing and attempting to verify claims. Recent headlines have proven what many veterans have said for years; this is intentional and by design to attain the goal of delaying and denying benefits to those who have shed their blood, lost limbs and their future ability to financially support themselves and their families in service to our country.
There is another, less publicized casualty of the current claims filing system. Truth.
The amount of fraud being perpetrated against the VA by way of fraudulent claims for disability costs by one estimate two hundred million dollars a year. That number reflects disability payments, care given, prescriptions and costs associated with investigating, prosecuting and recovering monies from cases of fraud. As horrific as that number is, many say it is a low-ball guess at best and the true price tag is much higher. Still others say there is no way to know the full dollar amount when the cost to veterans who have been waiting for years while fraudsters jam up the system is figured in.
Just a fraction of that dollar amount would be better spent on giving a few or even a few dozen VA employees direct access to the National Personnel Records Center, whose sole job would be to obtain and verify service records of claimants. This would also fix the problem of the DoD and VA computers not talking to each other while offering employment opportunities to even more veterans.
Additionally, placing personnel at the NPRC would streamline the process for all applicants. Paper would be largely eliminated, thereby saving untold millions in printing, processing and storage costs. Veterans would have a better chance of receiving the services they deserve while minimizing if not eliminating the possibility of approving claims based on forged or fraudulent records.
Instead, we are spending an unknown and unknowable amount of money on Congressional hearings whose purpose is to find out how deep or how high the intentional and systemic denial of care runs within the VA. At the end of these hearings, even if blame can be accurately and honestly assigned, our veterans will be no better off. All the processes within the VA are and will be the same. The backlogs will still extend into years and the fraud will go on unchecked.
This is not to say the hearings aren’t worthwhile. Every veteran who has suffered needlessly for lack of care, every family that has buried a loved one due to the neglect and intentional denials that are the current standard at the VA needs these hearings. Blame does need to be assigned, because it is only if there are consequences to the careers of those in charge will there be any motivation to make the necessary changes.
Once the hearings are over, changes need to be implemented. Changes that make sense and will positively impact the care our veterans receive while protecting our taxes from those who seek to defraud the system. Actually, there is no need to wait until the hearings have concluded to make these changes. Coming up with the solution now, before they are called in to testify before Congress could even save a career or two.
It is not just in the interest of our veterans that these actions must be taken. The general public, the civilian world of taxpayers is ultimately footing the bill. Our society will also bear the cost for many years to come because, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation”.
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