Congressman Tom Graves Op-Ed: Time To Set Standards Worthy Of Our Veterans

Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA-14) has an editorial posted over at Martha Zoller’s site and distributed by his communications office concerning the state of the Veterans Administration and the massive backlog they have of veterans’ claims:

I recently held a Veterans Benefits Fair at Berry College where we afforded veterans and their families the opportunity to learn about the benefits they’ve earned and meet privately with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The regional VA representatives who worked the fair were knowledgeable and helpful, and it’s obvious they care deeply about the people they serve. I plan to work with them again to host similar events in the future. Although it was a good day, as I spoke with the heroes from our congressional district, I heard a lot about the deep and disturbing problem gripping veterans across the nation: the massive VA backlog.

Despite having their budget increased by over 40 percent since 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has left hundreds of thousands of our veterans waiting for the care and services they have earned and deserve. Pending claims for benefits with the VA have increased from 391,000 to 890,000 under the Obama Administration. About 70 percent of the claims have been pending for at least four months, if not for years. San Francisco’s Bay Citizen reported that 19,500 veterans died while waiting for their claims to be processed in fiscal year 2012. Making matters worse, the VA is still operating in the last century as it struggles to transition from paper files to an electronic system.

This backlog—leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting in line for payments and services—is simply immoral.

I could point to the headstones at Arlington Cemetery, the countless stories of heroism from WWII to Afghanistan, the sons and daughters of Georgia who bear the scars of service on their minds and bodies, and the military families who live through and with it all. But, we know these things, and that is why the backlog is immoral. We all know about our veterans’ sacrifices, and yet our country has still failed them on a scale of such magnitude.

The veterans, their families and the taxpayers who fund the VA deserve action. To date, the VA’s response to this crisis has been to announce a plan to process veterans’ claims in 125 days or less by the end of year 2015, with 98 percent accuracy. They’ve aimed for 125 days because claims that take longer are considered “backlogged.” That means, by the VA’s definition, they will “eliminate” the backlog even as veterans still wait at least four months for a claim to be processed. Even then, an initial claim might be denied and it could take a veteran months or years for an appeal to be processed. Our veterans deserve far better than such a low standard.

If we ask our troops to rush into battle, we must not then ask them to wait for their medical and disability claims. I challenge Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to set a higher standard and cut the wait time to 30 days. Our veterans deserve to have the peace of mind that their claim will be processed in a month’s time, and not a day longer. Some might say such a standard is impossible or unattainable, but consider this: we depend on our service members to do extraordinary things for us, so shouldn’t we seek to do the same for them?

Additionally, I’m announcing my support for the Veterans Timely Access To Health Care Act (H.R. 241), which would ensure that veterans seeking primary or specialty care with a VA medical center receive an appointment not later than 30 days from their initial request.

It’s also time to think outside the box when it comes to fixing the VA. In a digital age, they are under a crush of paper files—literally. An inspector general report on the Winston-Salem VA office found that 37,000 claims folders were stacked on top of file cabinets. The August 2012 report said, “The excess weight of the stored files has the potential to compromise the structural integrity of the sixth floor of the facility.” The VA has spent hundreds of millions dollars to transition to paperless claims processing, called the Veterans Benefits Management System, but a February 2013 report from the VA Inspector General spelled out in stark terms that the program has made little progress.

Why don’t we ask tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook to help? Our veterans deserve the best system, and it makes sense to ask some of the most innovative companies of our time to either collaborate, or bid for a contract, to create a paperless claims system of ease and efficiency for veterans and the employees at the VA.

We must aim higher for our heroes. The Department’s goal of improving from a failing grade to a C- is unacceptable. It’s long past time to set standards and build a system that truly shows we are a grateful nation for the service and sacrifices of our veterans and their families.

16 comments

  1. Ellynn says:

    Where was this statement in early March when the House and Senate held hearings on the Veterans Benefits Management System and questioned Sec. General Eric Shinseki on this for hours?

  2. So misleading. Could the budget have increased by 40% because maybe we fought two wars and have many veterans with battlefield injuries who survived that cost a lot of money to treat, whereas in the past the deaths would have been a lot higher.

    Obviously most of the 40% has gone to benefits and not to administration. What magic wand does Graves want the department to wave in order to cut all this waiting time? I see Obama has already proposed increasing their administrative budget for 2014 to help deal with these problems, I’m guessing Graves will oppose Obama’s plan while he continues to wave his magic wand.

  3. Three Jack says:

    If funding is an issue, then introduce legislation to re-direct welfare/assistance payments going to worthless freeloaders. I bet those applying for these redistributed funds don’t wait 6 months for approval.

    America should be able to figure out how to treat our veterans who sacrifice everything better than the freeloaders who sacrifice nothing.

    • Ellynn says:

      So the welfare/assistance payments you want cut, does that include the military families that use them too?

      • Three Jack says:

        Ellyn,

        While we’re at it, let’s give service members an increase in pay so they no longer qualify for assistance. That is almost as big a travesty as the VA system.

        • Ellynn says:

          Military Families should be honered with a pay rate that allows a 22 year old serving with a wife and 2 children under 3 years old enough to stay off public assistants. Until then you just can’t cut WIC or school lunches and hope you get lucky and miss the military familes. Some of these familes are so blended between step-children and children from past relationships it can not be reasonably done. I have seen some of the free school lunch rates for military dependents in Liberty County schools at the height of the 3rd ID deployment in 2003-2007. Some years it was just sad. What if dad’s is serving and his ex-wife is a freeloader. How do you solve that?

          • Three Jack says:

            Read what I wrote Ellyn, increase military pay to a level that puts them past qualifying for assistance.

            It is a red herring to throw out military when someone suggests cutting benefits to ‘worthless freeloaders’ (as a veteran, I don’t consider military service to be ‘worthless’). Next you will bring up the geezers on their assistance programs as almost always happens.

            This country apparently cannot afford to care for military members injured in battle, but at the same time has increased the number of worthless freeloaders on all forms of handout programs with an annual cost close to $1t. I’m suggesting that we get our priorities in order by favoring those who actually give a sh*t about this country instead of those who have come to rely on our forced generosity.

            • The same forced generosity that libertarian and conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman advocated for?

              The idea that entitlements for the poor are going away is laughable, so you’re still going to have to come up with a solution to improve customer service at the VA that includes just spending more money on the department.

              • Three Jack says:

                So if Milton Friedman (assuming your assertion is correct) advocated for forced generosity, then all other like minded folks must follow…thanks Chris for the daily dose of collectivism theory.

                “The idea that entitlements for the poor are going away is laughable” — Sadly, probably true, so I guess it will be downright freakin hilarious when the money printers run out of ink and the entire entitlement monolith comes tumbling down. In the meantime, let’s just keep giving money to undeserving freeloaders to the detriment of those who actually serve this country…we truly have our priorities so liberally out of whack that it is hard to imagine a turn toward personal responsibility.

            • Ellynn says:

              I think you and I Jack have a similar point but we are mixing words and people. You pointed out we should redirect assistance away from freeloaders and my point was that some active military and vets are on some of that assistance. You can’t reasonably go into the non military aid programs and figure out who is a vet or active military or if if a child is a dependent. Please note at NO TIME did I say military or vets were freeloaders NOT ONCE. Even agreed with you on increase pay for service.

              My intent, which is not coming across well it would seem, if you cut assistance programs you run the risk of cutting funds to military users too. Not all wheat and chaff can be separated.

          • joe says:

            In 1977, I was a young PFC with a wife and 2 kids. It would have been much harder if I didn’t qualify for food stamps. After a promotion in 1978, I no longer qualified for or needed assistance. I was the only soldier that I knew in that situation. Most lower ranking military have no spouse and family (yet). We should not design laws around the 1%. The 80-20 rule says that we spend 80% of our time, money, assets… working on the 20% that is a problem. We should not legislate to cover every contingency.

  4. gcp says:

    This problem is a result of the perpetual Obama/Bush wars but it also may be time for Shinseki and his team to be replaced. Everyone wants legit injuries to be compensated but let’s make sure they are valid claims as some folks will make false/invalid claims. We see the mess in our civilian disability system and we don’t want the same for the VA system.

  5. saltycracker says:

    There is a reason public agencies do not embrace technology to fix systemic issues. It is usually to protect some well entrenched bureaucracies. They want to serve the vets but it must be as they always have.

    • xdog says:

      I don’t know about that. I’d say it’s more that the technology many public agencies use is 4-5 generations old. It’s government keeping cobol programmers busy. On system 3s.

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