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How the VA Got This Bad

Wounded Veterans

Wounded Marines practice basketball for the 2013 Marine Corps Trials.

The spotlight of public scrutiny has turned to the staggering backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but how did the backlog get this big?

Kayla Williams at TIME is writing a three-part series on how the backlog got this bad, exactly how bad it is, and what can be done about it.

In the first part of her series, Williams puts part of the backlog blame on a substantial increase in claims while the VA was going through a transition in the system it uses to process veterans’ claims.

[I]magine a kitchen remodel – in the midst of it, with no appliances, countertops, or cupboards, it’s a disaster. But the investment should pay off when complete with a more functional space, more energy efficient appliances, and so forth.

During the remodel, however, you may only be able to eat frozen dinners microwaved in the garage, and anyone seeing this from the outside would only notice a destroyed space and terrible functionality.

In part two, Williams digs into the exact numbers of the backlog and how part of the blame should be aimed at the Department of Defense (DoD).

While awaiting processing, “the veteran’s claim sits stagnant for up to 175 days as VA awaits transfer of complete (service treatment records) from DoD,” the report notes.

After years of work to move toward integrated electronic records that would eliminate this sort of delay, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently conceded that the Defense Department is not holding up its end of the bargain to improve the disability process.

“I didn’t think,” he said flatly, “we knew what the hell we were doing.”

A recent report also found that the VA was hiding excessive wait time for appointments by altering appointment data.

Read all of part one and part two of the series to get a deeper understanding of the problems facing veterans and the VA. Check back for part three tomorrow.

Image from USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment.

By: Andre Francisco
Online Producer, POGO

andre francisco Andre Francisco is the Online Producer for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Public Health and Science

Related Content: Veterans Affairs

Authors: Andre Francisco

Submitted by VeteranWorker at: May 3, 2014
As a govt employee who has worked in the VA I.T. main office for over 7 years, I can tell you that the VA management is the worst management I've seen in over 30 years. They spend 95 pct of their time in-fighting, and finger pointing, and their incompetence is simply mind bogling. I pity our Veterans who receive this type of "Support"
Submitted by Dyno1 at: May 25, 2013
How the leading technology country in the world could allow an archaic manual entry of hundreds and thousands of documents to exist in this time period is absurd. VSO's and state departments should have been entering data 35 years ago via computer technology. This has been allowed by out own congress and is just another indication of allowed corruption. Look at how the law, government, IRS and other agencies are able to track you down in less than a week and know what and where you have eaten in the last year. HA HA the joke is on us. When they want to process info they will spend the time and money to do it. When they want to deny, delay claims they will allow this type of system to remain in place. Who is corrupt Veteran or Government???? We shall judge the angels so we better learn to judge our representatives and own government first.
Submitted by veritas at: April 27, 2013
As a service connected veteran who waited 13 years for full benefits I understand the frustration. I also understand the need to carefully evaluate a claim and deny the bogus "paper cut" claims. All veterans should have a fast turn around on their claims. In order to do that, I HIGHLY recommend having a service representative file your claim. I had a good experience with the DAV,VFW and Colorado State Veterans service. There are others, the American Legion is very tenacious for example. Their service officers are trained in how to review your military records for injuries and treatments and any follow up care. They know how to word things and line up the evidence so that the VA claims examiner can make a decision much more quickly and have the evidence to back up a finding of service connection.As to the percentage, there are,again, words and phrases which make it easier to see which rating the injury fits into. The veteran's service officer will also monitor your case and assist in any appeals process. The VA is tasked with sorting through cases and identifying fraud as well. I propose that a sort of "triage" be brought into the system if it is not already being tried. I suggest that top priority go to two groups -WWII veterans because they are dying by the hundreds each day and resolving their claims can mean the difference between being in debt for the veteran's care and burial or having some assistance for survivors. The second group should be the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Claims for PTSD should be moved to the front of the line because this can kill someone while they are waiting. Claims involving loss of limbs,eyesight or hearing should be next in line as these are serious impediments to transitioning into civilian life. Just a few ideas.
Submitted by Veterans Advocate at: April 23, 2013
It is obvious that mainstream media has no idea of what is going on within the walls of the regional offices. For instance, when a veteran files a claim for a sinus condition and goes on to state that this causes blood in his nose, headaches, and dripping in his throat -- that is a claim for one issue -- a sinus condition. The VSR's misinterpret this as a claim for four issues in lieu of one, and now the VA says it has four issues when, in fact, it has one issue. Symptomatology associated with a disability is not a claim and it is the raters responsibility to identify this. However, the inexperienced management staff won't stop this stupidity and have reading comprehension classes. If VA management would stop just this, many frivolous symptoms would be eliminated as issues. Even when the veteran writes in and says he is only claiming one issue, we go on to address four issues because management says to. Not only that, if VA would stop accepting duplicate claims and new/increased claims while that particular claim is "not yet finally adjudicated" (38 CFR 3.160), they would eliminate that many more claims. Once we obtain all evidence identified by the veteran, our duty to assist ends. We have no obligation to send another unnecessary VCAA, another exam, and request duplicate evidence that we already have within the appeal period. You reporters need to go to the regional offices and talk to employees actually doing the work to get the facts. Also, it will be years before VBMS will be equivalent to or better than the broken tools we already have to work with. If VA staff does not address the actual problems causing the backlog before getting full force into VBMS, they are only carrying forward all the same problems of a paper system into their paperless system and the backlog will always be present, even in the years to come.
Submitted by Blastula at: April 23, 2013
The reporter for Time missed the key link: she needs to look at the malperformance of the big-name contractors who "helped" the VA to conceive the claims system and who were deeply involved in implementing and operating the system. The government was incredibly incompetent, of course, but its contractors appear to have made things much worse. and their names just are not coming up. Why does POGO not unearth them and look into this--it is your favorite topic anyway. Just an idea, eh?

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