Why won't politicians take care of veterans? | Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Why won’t politicians take care of veterans?

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For the past few days people have been reminiscing about the year that just past and looking forward to the year just starting. It’s a good thing to see so many people have hope for the future and little or no regret for the past.

While watching TV, a very familiar commercial caught my eye and got me to thinking about this.

For the past two-plus years I’ve been dealing with a claim from the V.A. In October of 2012, 14 months after first applying for these benefits, it was “finished,” which is to say the employees of the V.A. thought it was completed.

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 6.08.26 PM (2)-330In early December of 2012 I realized the amount was low so I began the process of calling four to five times a week to begin an appeal. Finally on Jan. 8, 2013 I got through to someone and told her what I saw as an error.

We went through some preliminary questions to determine just where the miscalculation occurred, double-checked everything because if you’ve ever tried to call the Veterans Administration’s 800-number you’ll know getting through is akin to winning the Power Ball Lottery.

Damn! Now I had to wait for an appeal! So, month after month goes by; the V.A. ebenefits website says the estimated window for the completion of my appeal is — and I kid you not — Sept. 19, 2013-Feb. 2, 2014.

So being crazy insane at times I figured out how many days that window is … having a calculator makes it easier … 136 days.

Bear in mind, that’s not the number of days I’ll have to wait for a completion, that’s the completion window, the time frame when the appeal might be completed.

The lowest number of days I’ll have to wait for a completion is 254 days — if it’s completed by September 19, 2013.  So far, so … whatever.

September 19 rolls around and past. We lope into October, then November and then … in mid-December I get a call from a claims specialist who is calling about the appeal. All right! We’re well over 300 days waiting, but still under 365 days.

The specialist starts asking the same questions the previous specialist asked because, and I kid you not, there didn’t seem to be any record of any of the comments I had made 300-plus days earlier. No problem, it’s getting corrected so let’s be happy. I have to repeat the nature of the error four times until the specialist finally gets it — and really, until I get the notification letter I’m just hoping she got it.

The ebenefits site says the estimated date of completion will be December 19, 2013 to January 1, 2014. It was actually completed on December 28, with the notification letter set to be mailed December 31.

Here’s the crazy notion part: the second specialist and I were talking about the claims process and how long it takes to complete. She then says, “It’s great news it only took about 11 months to finish.”

Okay, it was actually about 11 and a-half months, but let’s be magnanimous and call it 11 months.

Then I started laughing and she wanted to know why. Well, here it is: I first applied for these benefits in July 2011 and now it was almost two and a half years later and we’re just now finishing it up, due to an appeal that itself, from the time I first tried to make the appeal, was a full year of waiting. But we’re counting from the day I spoke to someone on January 8, 2013 … trust me, it’s just easier to go with the dates that are in the system if it isn’t going to have any affect on the results.

The resolution, or “awards” letter the veterans receive from the V.A. once their claim or appeal is completed; with the V.A. seal. Even after this resolution letter was received, the author had to call and ask about a date on the form which turned out to be a typo at least and could be an error that that changes the calculation. (Photo by author)

The resolution, or “awards” letter the veterans receive from the V.A. once their claim or appeal is completed; with the V.A. seal. Even after this resolution letter was received, the author had to call and ask about a date on the form which turned out to be a typo at least and could be an error that that changes the calculation.
(Photo by author)

Here’s why it is “funny,” in a painfully frustrating and anger-inducing way: most vets that make appeals on claims have to wait nearly 18 months, some waiting even longer. So, we think it’s a good thing my appeal took less than a year—if you don’t count the weeks I spent calling every day to try and get through.

Think about this: our veterans put their lives on the line for us, all volunteers no less, for shit pay and a dwindling amount of other benefits.

Men and women who once thought the military would be a career get out, some for career-ending injuries, other because it’s just too difficult to live on what the military pays, even if they live in the barracks and eat most of their meals at the mess hall.

Others get out because the time away from families while on deployment, usually a year, is too much to bear, especially if the vet has been in country three or more times.

So how do we treat these men and women, the one percent of the population, that takes that oath to serve and protect America? We cut the funding for the Veterans Administration and push the employees to the breaking point trying to address the thousands of claims and appeals that come across their desks.

The funding has slowly been coming back, but the claims process has been so backlogged for so long, the V.A. estimates it will take them until mid-2014 before they get all caught up.

Personally, I’m afraid to ask how big the window is for that estimate because really, as long as they’re completing my appeal, I don’t want to confuse the appeals specialist with questions that do not apply to my particular appeal. Seriously. I had to repeat what the error was four times. Don’t want to cause anymore … delays.

In 2012 President Obama addressed the issue and said adding more employees wasn’t the answer.

That just boggled my brain. According to the president all they needed to do was get all the records transferred from paper files to digital files and then all would be okay and the average wait time would be less than three months. We just needed to be patient.

Are you kidding me, Mr. President!

My claim was a relatively minor one, compared to the vets who have lost limbs, parts of their brains, other body parts. Some of those vets have been waiting more than a year just for the initial claim and well over a year for the appeal.

Many vets die before the claims and appeals are completed — and then the next of kin get the awards letter and the first check, which also means they have to go through the process of contacting the V.A. to let them know the veteran has passed away. You can probably guess how pleasant an experience that can be for the bereaved loved ones—especially if they have to call day after day for several weeks before they can actually speak to someone. “Delay, deny — wait ’til I die.”

Don’t tell us to be patient — get it fixed.

These veterans fulfilled their contracts, it’s time for the government to fulfill its end of the deal. Give service-connected disabled vets a lifetime of free health care, not just five years — they earned it. Stop charging vets co-pays for their medications. Many of them are trying to survive on just the disability payments and that barely covers expenses, so the cost of the meds can be too much.

Start giving veterans dental care. Every medical doctor and dentist knows how oral health is tied to the health of the cardio-vascular system and the heart itself. Dental care is vital to the health and well being of the vets and many of them cannot afford dental work even if they could afford dental insurance.

And that 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise we get to our benefits every few years; why don’t you give us the same percentage of a pay increase as Congress votes for itself.

This is what I’m thinking about on this first day of 2014. Country singer Trace Atkins is in a TV commercial for the Wounded Warriors Project It was in heavy rotation on New Year’s Day. It’s a great thing to see civilians step up and volunteer their money and time to help wounded veterans, but really, the building of specialty hospitals and rehabs for veterans shouldn’t be left up to the few concerned citizens who contribute to these efforts, it’s the responsibility of our government.

The politicians pledged to take care of the vets; they talked the talk about supporting the troops — it’s time to step up and do it.


About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.
COMMENT POLICY
  • Jason Davis

    1. It’s Veterans AFFAIRS, not administration. It’s been that way since the Dodgers last won the World Series.

    2. You’re writing of two entirely different processes. Claims and appeals are not the same thing. It is erroneous to lump them together in this manner.

    3. You express outrage for the lengthy wait of your claim and appeal, and you mock the President’s call for digitization over more workers, despite the human error in your claim notification. VA’s transformation addresses this issue, and external, third party audits have shown drastic improvements in claims rater accuracy as a result of new technology.

    4. “My claim was a relatively minor one, compared to the vets who have lost limbs, parts of their brains, other body parts.” Actually, those cases you mentioned are the easier claims.

    5. “Get it fixed.” More and more veterans are finally heeding VA’s call to file fully-developed claims online. These kinds of claims are being returned to the veterans accurately and within–and in some cases, under–the 125-day goal imposed by Secretary Shinseki.

    6. What more do you want the “politicians” to do? The backlog elimination and accuracy goals can’t be completely measured until the goal date in 2015. While you may have had a negative experience, VA has made enormous progress in this matter (reduced the backlog by 36 percent since March 2013). In fact, VA’s even on track to actually complete this goal on time. And why that sounds slow, consider that VA completes about 100,000 claims per month. That’s more than one million Veterans each year getting their claims decided, and now that all of the oldest claims are out of the system, the numbers will continue to drop.

    • Great_Timbini

      1) You’re right, it’s Veterans Affairs, not Administration, which is what it was called when I first got into the system 30-plus years ago. I’ve been calling it “Administration” ever since.
      2) so, we want to quibble over “two different processes” — when the average veteran calls in for his or her claim, and then 18 months later for the appeal, the fact that claims and appeals are two different processes means nothing; it’s the same phone number AND THEY ARE STILL WAITING FOR THEIR CLAIM TO BE COMPLETED, whether it’s in the “claims process” or the “appeals process.” The claim didn’t change for the vet, just the process, which, when talking with employees of the V.A. and veterans service organizations, is only of import to the employees of the V.A. It’s still a “claim” to the vets.You diminish the plight of the vets when you make this silly distinction.
      3) I didn’t mock the idea of digitizing the system, that’s a good idea, long overdue. I know they started digitizing locally at least 10 years ago, but I also know it wasn’t all across the system because the V.A. hospital in Milwaukee, WI didn’t have my digital records from La Jolla, CA when I was in Milwaukee in November 2012. What was upsetting was that the president didn’t think having more people trying to help correct the problems would help. Read it again.
      Whatever the third party audits might be indicating, veterans are STILL waiting 270 days or more for their claims — and then their appeals — to be completed. and the V.A. is kind enough to tell us how long we will have to wait, so it isn’t theoretical — it’s fact the V.A. gladly share with us. I’ll keep the two processes separate for you.
      4) My claim — and subsequent appeal — ARE relatively minor when compared to those vets that have lost major body parts. Those claims may be easier for the V.A. employees (which sounds like a dubious claim when considering how many of those vets have to wait more than a year for their claims and appeals), but I can assure you any vet will agree that my service-connected disability is minor compared to losing arms, legs or brain matter.
      Oh goodie, the woman vet with the prosthetic legs can now rest easy knowing her claim .. or appeal … is much easier for the V.A. employees than mine, even though we both still have to wait over two years for the claims and appeal processes to be completed.
      5) I have seen no evidence of that and in fact the veterans service organizations (VFW, DAV, etc) are still telling veterans not to rely on the online services yet.
      6) What more do we want the politicians to do? Add more employees, not just to the claims and appeals processes, but also more medical and clerical staff for the medical centers and regional offices. Give service-connected veterans life-time health care free of charge; give veterans dental care. My PC will see as many as 50 patients in one day, working far more than eight hours. The wait in the urgent care at the V.A. hospital can be an all day excursion. Make life a little easier for the vets.

  • http://vato21stcentury.blogspot.com/ Jim S.

    They work for the people served Who Are Not Taking Care Of Those Serving Them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The Abandoning of the missions and the purposes of, along with the once
    again promises to the Afghan people, first time was after the
    Afghan/Soviet long war, quickly after 9/11, with the Lives still being lost, those serving still being wounded!!! Giving rise to, with the rhetoric from within, not a victory over, and spread of al Qaeda type ideology criminal terrorism!!!

    The Cost of War, All Costs, the Responsibility of Those Served

    “12 years also is a long time. We now have a lifetime responsibility
    to a generation of service members, veterans and their families.” Dr. Jonathan Woodson 11 Sep. 2013: ‘With 9/11 Came Lifetime Responsibility’

    There’s only one branch of Government, Federal and States, consistently
    doing for not only us Veterans’ but also the Military personal and their
    Families and without the control of the Countries purse strings and combining
    the Cabinet agencies abilities to help where possible with their
    budgets. That’s the whole Executive branch under President Obama. Doing
    what Congress, and State legislatures in passing feel patriotic support bills that are unfunded, and the people represented by them and served by the
    Military refuse to do, Sacrifice, especially the wealthy!

    Decades, and wars of, of under funding the VA. With these two recent
    wars little was done for the Veterans of as well as the Military
    personal, i.e. Walter Reed as one example, and their Families, in the
    first years of both under the previous executive branch and those
    congresses. Rubber stamped war costs, off the books and on the countries
    credit card with no bid private contracts, including building an
    expensive private merc army! That’s not adding in all the other rubber
    stamped costs of the bush administration policy wants, especially in the
    first six years of!

    Rachel Maddow: “We got a huge round of tax cuts in
    this country a few weeks before 9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded
    Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway.
    How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it was
    free?

    Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we
    gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war
    started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about
    it, civilians. Go about your business.” 23 May 2013

    “If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth
    our treasure, too” “not just in the abstract, but in the form of a
    specific ante by every American.” -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    David (CBS News) Martin: “Then there’s the financial cost. To date,
    the Pentagon has spent more than $500 billion on the war in Afghanistan.
    A defense spending bill the Senate is expected to pass this week would
    add another $80 billion to that.” 17 December 2013

    That’s not counting those decades to come results from costs and the once again ignored, by those served, issues!

    The wars, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq, have yet been paid for. Nor
    especially the now decades to come, DeJa-Vu all over again, the of
    results for those sent, over and over, and the continuing under funding
    the Peoples Responsibility, the Veterans Administration charged with
    much more then just caring for the wounded, as those served ignore most
    of those results from!!

    ‘Cost of War’ site {real and estimated costs}: “Total
    US federal spending associated with the Iraq war has been $1.7 trillion
    through FY2013. In addition, future health and disability payments for
    veterans will total $590 billion and interest accrued to pay for the war
    will add up to $3.9 trillion.” 19 March 2013 © 2011 Watson Institute, Brown University

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71

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