Column | Remedy problems at VA now

May 23, 2014 

In March, the bipartisan federal agency General Accountability Office and the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the U.S., jointly issued a report called the VA Backlog Working Group.

The report provides the clearest evidence that our nation’s veterans are not receiving promised care and must suffer extremely long waits for benefits. Today, nearly 400,000 men and women who served our country in the armed services are waiting more than 125 days to receive disability compensation. In Reno, Nev., the backlog has grown to an unacceptable wait of 465 days.

This backlog breaks the sacred oath the United States made to our brave men and women when they joined the military. It is our government’s duty, and the president’s duty, to take care of them. The backlog is tantamount to breaking our promise to our veterans.

Because of this backlog, a soldier who lost an eye and use of his right arm and leg from an IED explosion waited more than 18 months for compensation. Because of this backlog, a woman who flew a Blackhawk helicopter and was involved in a crash that resulted in a broken back and a spinal fusion was forced to wait more than nine months to be awarded her claim.

Because of this backlog, a veteran who was raising his young daughter suffered multiple hospitalizations, and could not keep a civilian job due to strain in his back and knees, was forced to wait 284 days for his claim to be approved.

Waiting for more than 125 days for a disability compensation claim to be processed is not only frustrating and tiresome, but also can devastate a veteran financially and emotionally.

If this doesn’t make you angry, consider the following:

In 2000, the backlog was 60,000 veterans, and in the ensuing eight years had grown to just under 100,000 claims. Beginning in 2009, at the start of the Obama presidency, to January 2014, the backlog swelled to more than 400,000 veterans waiting to have their claims reviewed. The claims production per employee has decreased by nearly 30 percent, this in spite of the VA hiring more than 1,900 additional employees.

When asked about this, the VA noted there was a lack of motivation and cooperation between federal agencies that are required to provide vital claims information to the VA.

Post-traumatic stress disorder entered into American lexicon in 1980. Previously, veterans who suffered violent or horrifying experiences on the battlefield were diagnosed as having soldier’s heart, shell-shock, combat fatigue and stress response syndrome. Today, PTSD is a devastating mental illness that has been linked to 5,000 veteran suicides every year.

PTSD rates among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans may be as high as 20 percent, and more than half of those with PTSD do not seek treatment. These cases are added to the backlog and many require urgent care.

This has to change. When our federal government’s priorities are centered on granting clemency to convicted drug dealers and other assorted felons, we, all of us, must write and express our indignity to our elected officials and our president.

Do this for our veterans.

Thomas Palchak is a Coast Guard veteran and member of the State College American Legion. He is the manager of Penn State Berkey Creamery. He writes about issues concerning veterans and military men and women serving on active duty. He and his wife live in Lemont.

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