Friday, August 30, 2013

Exclusive: Senators Question the Ethics and Expertise of VA Advisers

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders
The legal and financial experts accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to advise America’s veterans seeking benefits are not always qualified or trustworthy, a bipartisan group of senators concluded today.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and other high-profile lawmakers said this morning they are “deeply troubled” by the VA’s poor oversight of the thousands of private financial planners, lawyers, insurance agents and others who advise veterans applying for benefits.

The senators, who are calling for immediate changes, cited a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that called out the VA for loosely enforcing its own vague rules on accrediting these advisers. The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs, also criticized VA for leaving itself vulnerable to abuses and for keeping veterans in the dark about their rights.

The GAO report was addressed in a strongly worded letter sent today to Secretary Eric Shinseki today from Sanders, Richard Burr (R-N.C). Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

“We believe there are immediate steps VA must take in order to improve the accreditation program,” the senators wrote. “We are deeply troubled by the findings indicating weaknesses in the accreditation program, which may prevent VA from ensuring that veterans are served by knowledgeable, qualified, and trustworthy representatives.”

The lawmakers added that the accreditation procedures should be strengthened to protect veterans from corrupt advisers among the 20,000 approved by the VA. They also urged the department to do a better job letting veterans know how to report abuses.

Problems with the accreditation program are compounded by a lack of staff and inadequate technology, the senators said.

The latest GAO report is part of an investigation that found lax oversight and unclear rules made the VA ripe for abuse. That report found that some firms overcharge veterans for services or sell financial products that end up limiting veteran’s access to the benefits they've earned.

The VA acknowledged in writing that more staff is needed to oversee the program, but said there are budgetary constraints. VA officials also expressed typical reluctance to toughen the application procedures to approve financial planners and legal advisers, saying this could have a “chilling effect” on getting attorneys to help veterans.
VA officials sounded the familiar refrain that they would try to better inform advisers about veterans’ benefits. 

Veterans should do all you can to learn about the qualifications of the experts you seek to advise you. Check their backgrounds, do Google searches and ask as many questions as you can. Established law firms like Bergmann & Moore, which are staffed by veterans and which solely represent veterans with disability claims, typically get the highest marks from veterans.

To read the GAO report, click here. To read the senators’ letter to the VA secretary, click here

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Medal of Honor Recipient Ty Carter is a New Kind of American Hero

Ty Carter receives Medal of Honor this week from President Obama
Last night, as I watched newest Medal of Honor recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, tell his harrowing story to David Letterman, I fought back tears. Four years ago, while serving in Afghanistan, Carter and his 52 comrades at Combat Outpost Keating were surrounded and attacked by an estimated 300 Taliban fighters. It looked hopeless.

Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, and with no regard for his own safety, Carter ran twice through a 100-meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition, rescued several wounded troops, and prevented the position from being overrun by the Taliban assault force over the course of many hours. 

Carter, who was wounded in the attack, saved countless lives. In the process, he also saw eight of his fellow soldiers die in the battle. He suffered some hearing loss but recovered from his concussion and other physical injuries. 

But then came the invisible wounds of war. The nightmares. The cold sweats. The anxiety. The uncontrollable shaking. He is still coping with all of that, as are millions of other men and women who've served our country.

Carter is an American hero, and what makes him even more heroic and brave in my eyes is that he is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor, to speak so openly about his post-traumatic stress, also known as PTSD. His comments will go a long way toward getting rid of the stubbornly lingering stigma over PTSD.

Carter's hands were shaking a bit last night as he shared with Letterman the details of the firefight and his subsequent psychological struggles, which are as old as war itself and which I have reported before afflict at least one in three troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Carter noted that anyone can get PTSD, and emphasized the importance of talking to loved ones about your post-battle stress and seeking professional help.

He said when he first came back from that firefight it was very difficult for him to not panic when he was in a large crowd or when he was driving and saw a box on the side of the road that his mind irrationally told him could be an IED (improvised explosive device).

Carter has dedicated his life now to increasing public awareness of PTSD and other mental health issues for soldiers. He says veterans can come home and be whole again, they can get on with their lives and enjoy their families and friends. He is all about hope.

“Only those closest to me can see the scars that come from seeing good men take their last breath," Carter said before the ceremony this week. "During the battle, I lost some of the hearing in my left ear. But I will always hear the voice of Specialist Stephan Mace. I will hear his plea for help for the rest of my life.”

He then talked about how his therapist and others have helped him recover.

“Thanks to the professionalism of my platoon sergeant, Sgt. Hill, and my behavioral health provider (therapist), Captain Cobb, and my friends and family, I will heal.”

As he presented Carter with the prestigious medal, President Obama said, "It is absolutely critical for us to work with brave young men like Ty to put an end to any stigma that keeps more folks from seeking help. So let me say it as clearly as I can to any of our troops or veterans who are watching and struggling: Look at this man. Look at this soldier. Look at this warrior. He’s as tough as they come.  And if he can find the courage and the strength, to not only seek help, but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you. So can you."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Exclusive: My Unforgettable Day With the Last American Troops to Leave Vietnam


Your author (center, in jeans) and the last men to leave Vietnam


























I'll never forget the first time I visited The Wall, the poignant Washington DC memorial that pays tribute to the more than 58,000 American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. It was the summer of 1994. I was a correspondent with People magazine at the time and was in DC to meet with the legendary last American troops to leave Vietnam.

Earlier that year, I'd become the first journalist to identify, interview and bring together these brave Marines, who were on the last helicopter to evacuate Vietnam from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975. The magazine brought six of them to San Diego, where I hosted a reunion for them. It was the first time most of them had seen each other since that night they left Saigon nearly 20 years before. They told me, among other things, that they waited hours for that final chopper. They all thought they'd been left behind. 

It was shocking to me that these men, who are a part of American history, had never been officially identified by the Department of Defense. After producers of the musical Miss Saigon read my story, they brought all these guys, and a few more that were unable to come to San Diego, and me to Washington DC to be the special guests at the Kennedy Center premiere of the touring musical, which recreates that historic helicopter flight. 

The day after we attended the play, we all met up at The Wall. Many of these guys had surprisingly not been there before, either. It was an emotional moment for all of us. There wasn't a dry eye among these tough Marines when they started swapping stories about some of their fallen comrades. 


At the Kennedy Center the night before, as these men watched the scene in the play that depicted that harrowing and now infamous escape from the embassy roof, I could sense that they felt they were finally getting the recognition they deserved.


"This play brought tears to my eyes," S.Sgt. David Norman told me. "It really brought it all back." In the photo above, from left to right, the eight Marines on that last chopper out who I was honored to meet while covering this story were Sgt. Maj. Terry Bennington, M. Sgt. Juan Valdez, S.Sgt. Mike Sullivan, Lt. Col. Jim Kean, Gunnery Sgt. Robert Schlager, S.Sgt. Norman, Cpl. Stephen Bauer, and Sgt. Stephen Schuller.


It's always been important to me to thank veterans for their service, especially Vietnam vets, who've suffered decades of neglect and mistreatment and are only beginning to get the respect they've earned. It's taken five decades for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to acknowledge the devastation caused by Agent Orange, the deadly herbicide developed by Monsanto and others to which so many of our troops were exposed. Many Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals are still fighting for the care they deserve. 

The VA has only recently updated its list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in or near Vietnam during the war 50 years ago.


As the blog points out, the list of Navy and Coast Guard ships can help Vietnam veterans find out if they qualify for presumption of Agent Orange exposure when seeking disability compensation for Agent Orange-related diseases. The medical conditions presumed to be associated with Agent Orange can be found at VA’s web site


Thankfully, many more good Americans will not let VA forget those who served, and died, in Vietnam. And The Wall continues to grow. 


In fact, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), whose mission is to preserve the memorial's legacy, promote healing and educate about the impact of the Vietnam War, has just announced that it has coordinated with local organizations and volunteers nationwide in a call for photographs and back stories of veterans listed on The Wall for display at its Educational Center.

Plans for the exhibitions at the Center include the display of pictures and stories of those who did in that war, some of the 400,000 items left at The Wall, and a celebration of service member values in all wars. There are still about 26,000 Vietnam veterans listed on The Wall who need corresponding photographs and stories.

The call for photos is tied to the Faces Never Forgotten campaign, encouraging friends and families of veterans and all Americans to ensure that the memories and stories of those inscribed on The Wall are never forgotten. VVMF hopes to give every soldier the honor of being fully remembered as a person and not just a name.

For info on the Education Center at The Wall or submitting a photo, visit www.vvmf.org or call 866-990-WALL.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bob Filner Probably Resigning, But Troubling Questions Linger

"Don't let the door hit you, Bob..."
I'm sure by now you've read the news that embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is probably resigning. Yes, the greasy pol is apparently out - though some of the details of his pending resignation "deal" are still uncertain. It had to happen. At least 18 very credible women have come forward with specific accounts of Filner's creepy behavior. That he is apparently leaving represents a potentially healing moment for this city, which has taken a major PR hit in recent weeks.

But as this conniving man with the comic-book-villain smile prepares to head off into the San Diego sunset, some disturbing questions and hypocrisies about this case linger in my mind. The most glaring one is that he should not be paid by the City to leave. He does not deserve a penny from taxpayers.

The other aspect of this case that really troubles me is the fact that so many of Filner's political opponents, who say they're outraged by Filner's alleged harassment of several female military veterans who themselves were victims of sexual assault, never voiced a word about the sexual assault crisis in the United States military until now. 


As someone who covers the military and veterans I admit my bias here. But where was the concern among these folks for our female troops who were assaulted long before the Filner case broke, especially here in San Diego, which has one of the highest concentrations of active duty military and veterans in the nation? 


A recent Pentagon report suggests that as many as 26,000 military service members may have been assaulted last year. That is an unbelievable statistic. Sexual military assault is an enormous problem. But in San Diego, we heard mostly crickets until Bob's brave accusers stepped up to the microphone.


It begs the question: Are Filner's political opponents who are waving the flag and voicing support for the female veterans who say they were harassed by Filner really that concerned with sexual assault and sexual harassment? Or did they just care about getting Filner out of office? 


Filner, who I covered for Newsweek when he was chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has a reputation for arrogance and downright meanness dating back years. He was a political pit bull who did do a lot of good for veterans while in Congress. But at the same time that he was helping some, he was evidently harassing and traumatizing others. Even most of his closest political allies think he's a jerk. 

While in Congress, Filner reportedly met Air Force Master Sergeant Eldonna Fernandez at a National Women's Veterans Association of America (NWVAA) "Healing and Hiring Fair." Fernandez, who served her country honorably for 23 years and was deployed to the Middle East after 9/11, was raped three times during her service. 

She, along with Army veteran Gerri Tindley, are among the women who have publicly accused Filner making unwanted advances. They are also among at least eight female veterans and members of the NWVAA in San Diego who CNN reports have made accusations against the departing mayor. Almost all of the women were victims of sexual assault while they were in the military.

The women say Filner used his power to access military sexual assault survivors. If true, this is of course beneath contempt. 

The very real and ongoing problem of sexual military assault has finally gotten some press in recent months, but it hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the Filner debacle, which has not only made national news but even the talk shows and comedy shows. 

Is it good that we are as a nation now talking about sexual military assault? Yes, of course. But is it transparently obvious why some of Filner's opponents are bringing it up now when they have completely neglected the issue in the past? Again, yes. 

What really matters here is that women, and men, are being sexually assaulted and harassed every day, both in and out of the military. That's something that I hope people do not conveniently forget once the Furious Filner News Cycle dies down.

Monday, August 19, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Is Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Downplaying the VA Backlog Crisis?


Et tu, Bernie? Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who since being named chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs earlier this year has not hesitated to call out the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for failing to fix the unacceptable backlog of claims for disability benefits, today welcomed a VA report that outlines progress made on this backlog. But is he downplaying the problem with the latest numbers?

As the Senator noted today, and which I reported here last week, there has been a nearly 20 percent drop in the number of backlogged claims from a peak four months ago, according to a VA analysis. These are the same numbers President Obama commented cited in a speech last Saturday.

Said Sanders today in a statement, “As chairman, I am pleased to see the VA making significant progress in reducing what everyone continues to recognize as an unacceptable backlog. No veteran should have to wait years to receive the benefits they have earned. We must remain aggressive and we intend to closely monitor the situation to ensure that the progress continues, but I am glad we are now making progress toward the goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015.”

The VA, which considers a claim to be backlogged when it has been pending for more than 125 days, announced today that as of Aug. 14, the backlog stood at 490,000 claims out of 773,000 total pending claims. But what most media outlets have failed to report, and what VA continues to ignore in its communication with the public - Sanders didn't mention this in his statement today, either - is the fact that there are 250,000 additional claims on appeal. 

Tragically, disability claim appeals, which often happen as the result of error by the VA, take four years or longer to get resolved. Bottom line: more than 1 million of our disabled veterans are still not getting the compensation they have earned.

Not that the recent reduction is insignificant. This is good news. But VA continues to downplay the real numbers. It should be noted that the VA has been handling a greatly increasing number of claims - more than 1 million a year for each of the past three years. These vets are coming both from post-9/11 veterans as well as those from the Gulf War, Vietnam War and other conflicts.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki set a goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015 by, among other things, developing a digital record-keeping system in an agency that has been mired in a 19th century paper system that has painfully slowed claims handling. Most observers say that Shinseki's goal is still unlikely to be reached. 
But any progress is a good thing. 

As for Sanders, he has been a champion for veterans, but even he sometimes sips the Beltway Kool-Aid and downplays to a degree the VA backlog, which is nothing less than a national crisis.

A National Radio Day Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend

Broadcasting legend Walt Reno

Can you name your favorite radio personality? Tomorrow, Aug. 20, is National Radio Day, a perfect time to give a little love to your favorite unfettered, unfiltered on-air disc jockeys who we all love but who, sadly, are a disappearing breed thanks to the corporatization of the airwaves. I'm celebrating tomorrow by paying tribute to a true radio legend. He also happens to be my late father. 

Walt Reno, pictured at left, was an old-school entertainer who wrote all his own copy, did multiple voices, liked corny jokes, and absolutely loved entertaining people. A loving dad and broadcasting genius who, both on the air and off, lived every day of his remarkable life to the fullest, Walt was larger than life, and salt of the earth. Here's a sample of his brilliant radio work. 

OK, so I may be a bit biased, but from his first days as a broadcaster on the college radio station at the University of Iowa in the late 1940s and into the new millennium, Walt did it all in the radio and television industries. Gaining national fame as the announcer for several years on the legendary Mike Douglas Show, Walt (dad) was a huge broadcasting force in the Midwest in the 1960s, and then one of the most popular radio personalities in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s. 


Walt's first stops along the way included radio stints in small towns in Ohio and Wisconsin before landing for several years at WOC in Davenport, Iowa, where he also became well known on television as "Cowboy Whitey," the popular kids' show host.

From Davenport, Walt returned to his hometown of Des Moines, where he become the top-rated morning radio disc jockey in Central Iowa, working for many years as the morning man for KRNT radio. During those years, Walt was the voice of Des Moines, and people always tuned in to hear his booming voice and to hear what crazy thing Walt would do or what corny joke Walt would tell next. In the tradition of old-time radio shows like Fibber Magee and Molly, Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Walt demonstrated his vocal and comedic talents by introducing Iowa radio listeners to a host of hilariously funny characters while at KRNT, including Emma Bitty, the station cleaning lady, and Hawkshaw Reno, the local cowboy.

Walt, who I saluted on the DesMoinesBroadcasting.com site, also hosted numerous popular television shows for Des Moines' CBS affiliate, Channel 8 (then KRNT, now KCCI), including O, Gee, Family Fun Time and the daily Telefunnies, in which Walt, in Sid Ceasar-like fashion, would tell funny stories in all kinds of different voices and dialects, wearing all kinds of different hats.

Walt was also the most recognizable commercial pitch man on radio and television in Central Iowa for many years, selling everything from milk to cars. He hosted variety shows throughout Iowa, and was a fixture at the Iowa State Fair every summer, mastering various shows and concerts for kids and other fairgoers. Walt also traveled all across the country in the 1960s interviewing movie stars, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and many more.

When Walt moved from KRNT to KSO in the late 1960s, it was big news in Des Moines. A full-page ad in the Des Moines Register announced that Walt had moved to KSO, which became a rock station. Walt went from playing adult contemporary music like Frank Sinatra, which he loved, at KRNT, to Top 40 rock music like The Beatles, which he also loved, on KSO.

Moving to Las Vegas in 1972, Walt's career continued to flourish. He joined the staff of KORK radio, where he worked the afternoon drive at that station which was also an adult contemporary format. While still on the air at KORK, Walt subsequently became the weatherman for the NBC news affiliate in Las Vegas. Again, he did all kinds of radio and television commercials, and quickly became the most recognizable broadcaster in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s.

When he made the move from KORK radio to KVEG radio, a country station, in the early 80s, his ratings soared and he became the number one morning radio man in Las Vegas.

Walt did it all during his years in Las Vegas, hosting Easter Seal telethons, hosting the hugely popular "I Love You Las Vegas" parties, writing a golf column for Las Vegas Magazine and various other publications, and doing thousands of commercials. It's doubtful if Walt ever paid for a meal, a movie or a round of golf while living in Vegas the past 30 years.

More recently, Walt hosted Las Vegas entertainment show for KLAV radio in which he interviewed all kinds of stars, from Jack Jones to Gordon Lightfoot. A friend to celebrities such as Jerry Lewis and Marty Allen, Walt loved show business, and enjoyed meeting the stars. Walt also was the Voice of Las Vegas for the nationally syndicated Travel Talk Radio show.

On the national front, Walt did numerous voices for the animated satirical USA Network comedy show "Duckman," which was written and executive produced by his son and my brother, Jeff Reno. In the late 80s, Walt was also the Las Vegas editor for The NFL'S Official Guide to the Super Bowl, whose editor was yours truly.

But Walt was as great a success as a person as he was a performer. Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, he attended Roosevelt High School, and the University of Iowa. A great athlete and fitness fanatic, Walt lettered in swimming at Roosevelt and at the University of Iowa. At the University of Iowa, where he got his degree in Speech, Walt was a member of the Alpha Tao Omega fraternity.

Walt was a World War II veteran, a Navy man who was stationed on Guam during the war.

Walt was a tremendous golfer, a three handicap at one time, and won numerous golf tournaments in Iowa and Las Vegas. And he wrote about the game he loved for years. Walt met and interviewed virtually every major golfing great, from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Jack Nicklaus. And of course, his favorite golfer, whom he met and interviewed many times, was the legendary Arnold Palmer. Walt, the number one booster of Las Vegas golf, helped transform Vegas from a city with only a handful of golf courses in the early 70s to an international golfing Mecca.

Walt was also a music buff and trumpet and piano player who loved spinning records for the last 50 years. He loved Mel Torme and Bobby Darin, and worshiped Frank Sinatra, but his musical idol was big-band leader Stan Kenton, whom he interviewed several times. Walt also stayed up with the times, and loved rock bands such as Chicago, Pink Floyd and Yes. He also loved country music.

Walt was a natural entertainer who had an amazing sense of humor, and could make anyone laugh. A man of a thousand voices and faces, he was a brilliant public speaker and remarkably adept at improvisation. He had no equal in the joke-telling department. A huge fan of movies, his favorite actor was Burt Lancaster.

And Walt especially loved comedy. Among his favorite comics and comic actors were Jonathan Winters, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, W.C. Fields, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Phil Hartman, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and Larry the Cable Guy.

Walt was, above all, a family man. He spent every free moment with his three children, Jeff, Michele and me, and his five grandkids, Mandy, Lindsay, Jenny, Taylor, and Stephanie. The entire family is determined to keep my dad's loving memory and his remarkable legacy alive forever.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ANALYSIS: Has the Obama Administration Been Good or Bad for Veterans?


President Obama speaking to Disabled American Veterans
During his speech Saturday before the Disabled American Veterans' national convention in Orlando, Fla, President Obama addressed new proposals to give veterans greater access to education and job opportunities, and said the backlog of veteran disability claims, which has plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for years, has "begun to shrink." But is this in fact true? And what is the real story regarding Obama's record on America's veterans? Has he been good or bad for our former warriors? 

It's not a simple answer. There have been some historic advances, as well as some profound failures. While the backlog has been reduced by nearly 20 percent since March, Obama ignored some key numbers in his speech. The number of disability claims and delays actually skyrocketed in the last three years, partly because so many troops have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and because of an aging population of Vietnam War vets and overdue rule changes that made more veterans eligible. 

Approximately 780,000 claims are now pending for new and re-opened claims, and there are 250,000 additional claims on appeal. In other words, more than 1 million of our disabled veterans are still not getting the compensation they have earned serving our country.

Obama has clearly worked hard trying to fix this broken disability claims process and to assist veterans in other areas. But has he done enough? No. Is he minimizing the ongoing problems at VA? Yes, especially for Gulf War veterans, who this administration has virtually forsaken. Just weeks ago, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who of course is an Obama appointee, gutted the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness, an independent board mandated by Congress in 1998. 

Shinseki, who'd previously shown unwavering support for the committee, reversed course for no legitimate reason, firing or removing the committee's chair and half the panel. This shocked and angered many veteran advocates who speak out for the 250,000 Gulf War veterans who've still not yet been treated for Gulf War Illness.

Despite these very serious problems, things have gotten better for veterans overall since Obama took office. It's not easy fixing such a deeply entrenched bureaucracy as VA, especially when two wars are concluding and politicians are too busy fighting each other to pass many laws. But by almost any measure, the situation for veterans and their families is demonstrably better now than it was under the previous administration. 

There has been real progress on many fronts, including conditions at VA facilities, and the fast-tracking of coverage of a number of health issues resulting from Vietnam War troop exposure to Agent Orange, which the Bush administration ignored. 

And this administration is light years ahead of the previous one in terms of support for veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other mental health-related issues, which Bush largely neglected. And then of course there were the conditions we saw at Walter Reed, which I reported for Newsweek in 2007. 


It is disingenuous and transparently political for Bush-era pols to lambast Obama for his treatment of veterans. The VA during the Bush years was a disaster, as we reported six years ago.

Anthony Principi, for example, who was one of the three VA secretaries under President Bush, recently said the backlog is largely the result of Obama administration policy decisions and laws that have burdened the system. In a speech at a forum co-hosted by Concerned Veterans for America and The Weekly Standard magazine, Principi called for the restoration of the "integrity" of the VA claims system.

This is nonsense. Principi's VA was mired in controversy. And he has no room to speak on the subject of integrity. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that the California company headed by Principi overcharged VA by some $6 million under a long-term contract to conduct physical evaluations on veterans applying for disability benefits. 

Obama also deserves credit for implementing the overdue automation of troops claims, which will revolutionize the claims process. My sources inside VA tell me that this badly needed computerization of the claims process has faced resistance by 19th century VA bureaucrats. 

One source who works with VA every day tells me, "There is sadly but clearly a population of career non-professional VA employees who are worried that the transition to computerized claims and the elimination of paper will mean fewer jobs. They may be right, but if that's the price to pay for timely and accurate claims processing, then too bad. Shinseki has stated publicly that the antiquated paper claims system costs the taxpayers $1 billion a year, and that does not quantify the pain and suffering of those waiting for adjudication of their claims. Many of the suicides are due to slow processing or denials." 

Robert Walsh, an attorney who has represented thousands of veterans with disability claims with VA, says that "more veterans that I represent obtained 100 percent VA compensation benefits and health care in the first four years of the Obama administration than in eight years of the Bush administration. That is all I know about it. Results. Shinseki and Obama have been 100 percent better for vets and the country vis a vis military families and vets. Shinseki took over a train wreck. He has the trains running again."

But the track is certainly not at 100 percent speed. Paul Sullivan, a highly respected veterans advocate and managing director of public affairs at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that exclusively handles veteran disability cases, recently told MSNBC that at some VA offices, the wait for a disability claim to be processed is "unbelievably long. We’ve had clients here that have died waiting ten-plus years for a VA decision."

So, clearly, while things have improved under Obama's watch, much more needs to be done. While he gets an F for his treatment of Gulf War veterans, overall I'd give him a C-. Or, perhaps more accurately, an incomplete.