Thursday, September 13, 2012

ANOTHER WACO TRAGEDY UNFOLDING: THIS ONE INVOLVES MISTREATMENT OF VETERANS

There's another tragic controversy unfolding in Waco, Texas involving the federal government - but it has nothing to do with any religious cult. This one's arguably much worse, because it concerns the unthinkably shoddy treatment of our wounded warriors by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

With the help of some conscientious veterans, investigative journalists at the Austin American-Statesman discovered preposterously long benefits claim delays and rampant errors at VA's Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) disability claims processing office in Waco.

Veterans living in and around Waco, a city of about 125,000 located along the Brazos River halfway between Dallas and Austin, are reportedly waiting 13 months for VBA to make a decision on their benefits. 

Sadly,
while they wait, and wait, to get the help they've earned, many veterans get increasingly frustrated because they can't pay their bills, support their families or get the care they desperately need. When this happens, depression and even thoughts of suicide sometimes creep in as veterans begin to feel abandoned by the nation they honorably served. 

The Waco regional office is dead last in the nation, averaging a reported 400 days to process a claim. It's hard to imagine that in this great nation we are leaving our service men and women hanging out to dry like this.

The story, which was picked up by Stars & Stripes and Associated Press, evidently got the attention of Congress, which has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 21 titled "Breaking Through the Backlog: Evaluating the Efforts of the New State Strike Force Team."

The hearing will focus on these long waits and errors by VA in Waco, Houston and other cities in Texas, where the situation has gotten so bad that Gov. Rick Perry last month reportedly declared an emergency.

Paul Sullivan, former project manager at VA and now director of veterans outreach for the Maryland-based law firm Bergmann & Moore, which concentrates only on VA disability benefits law, testified before Congress about the claims backlog earlier this year.

He recently told the American-Statesman that VBA "has made similar promises for decades and failed to deliver. What’s different this time is enormous public attention, Congressional interest and the magnitude of the crisis.”


A statement released by Bergmann & Moore this week declared that VBA should "quickly implement quality training and streamlined regulations in order to reduce the number of VBA mistakes. VBA’s promised training and a new computer system have yet to fully materialize."

Bergmann & Moore's blogs have been all over the issue of VBA’s entrenched problems: 


*On July 20, the law firm reported how VBA’s Waco and Houston offices are grinding to a halt.

* On July 5, the firm described a contentious Congressional hearing on VBA’s claim crisis. 


* And back on June 12, the firm blogged about VBA’s failures in my home state of California, where VBA’s claim processing error rate reached 60 percent in Los Angeles.

The upcoming hearing on the Waco debacle 
should be covered live via the internet at the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee web site.

Of course, while Waco's VA is the worst offender, this is a national crisis. As of this past week, nearly 900,000 cases are pending, with 66 percent of those going unaddressed for more than four months. 


Another 255,000 claims currently await appeal, according to Bergmann & Moore.

“With more than 1.1 million veterans claims buried in VA bureaucracy,” Sullivan recently said, “the problem only gets worse.”


Stay tuned. I will stay on top of this story.




2 comments:

  1. What makes me so angry about this situation and all of the other situations like this that are all too common.. These men and women did not hesitate to sign on the line and step up to protect this country and all of the citizens of the USA.. WHY WHY WHY should they have to wait AT ALL for any compensation that they are due?

    Something has to be done and very quickly to fix this system which obviously does not work.

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  2. I agree completely, Christine. We can only hope Congress takes swift action on this. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

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