Thursday, March 6, 2014

President Obama And General Shinseki Are Still Failing Our Wounded

VA Secretary and retired Army General Eric Shinseki
What the heck's going on at the Department of Veterans Affairs? Despite the promises from President Obama and VA Secretary Secretary Eric Shinseki to fix the broken disability claims system, the department remains woefully unable to process veterans’ claims in a timely or accurate manner. Things were supposed to get better by now for our wounded warriors. Shinseki promised that by 2015 the notorious backlog of disability claims would be at zero. Fat chance of that happening now. It's a national disgrace.

I've always admired Shinseki. A retired Army general and disabled Vietnam War veteran, he seems sincere about wanting to make positive changes at VA for his fellow vets. I know his job isn't easy. VA is a deeply entrenched bureaucracy that is very difficult for one man or even one administration to fix. But at what point is it time to say that he has failed in this job? I'd say that time is right about now.

Here's the hard fact: On January 21, 2009, there were 167,745 appeals pending.  Now, as of February 24, there are 272,110 appeals languishing at VA. This is a dramatic spike of more than 62 percent. That's just not gonna get it done, General! 

Last week, McClatchy News reported that wait times for veterans are soaring. The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the cumbersome VA appeals process shot up to more than 900 days last year. That is double the department’s long-term target. 

After hovering between 500 and 750 days for the past decade, what the VA refers to as its “appeals resolution time” hit 923 days in fiscal 2013. That was a 37 percent jump in one year, from 675 in fiscal 2012, according to a review of the department’s annual performance report.

VA has made efforts to modernize and computerize its antiquated claims system and hire more staff, including more mental health staff. The department's long-term goal is to get that figure above to 400 days. But the trend over the past decade has been in the opposite direction.

Last December, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, demanded that VA provide Congress with plan to fix the new backlog of claim appeals created while VA focused only on new claims. As of today, VA has not submitted a plan to senators.

VA’s disaster is described as the “claim delay and error crisis” because the American Legion testified before Congress last year that they found a 55 percent error rate in VA’s disability decisions. When VA makes mistakes on a veteran’s claim, the new appeal is then added back into VA’s inventory.  

Joe Moore, a former VA attorney and now a partner at Bergmann & Moore who represents veterans with VA disability claim appeals, noted that when comparing December 2012 to December 2013, VA’s disability claim inventory remained stagnant at nearly 1.4 million.  

"Poor leadership, untrained staff, chronic staff shortages, and overworked staff caused VA to make mistakes in 30 percent to 55 percent of claim decisions," Moore told The Reno Dispatch this week. "In addition, VA’s improper, myopic focus on veterans’ new claims means that VA ignores appealed claims, even though Congress ordered that appealed claims be given priority. VA’s claim appeal backlog rose 62 percent in five years, and it hit a new record of more than 272,000 claims in March 2014."

But Moore added that VA’s only response to the claim delay and error crisis that VA created "was to propose harmful new regulations making it far more difficult for disabled veterans to file claims and appeal VA decisions. Instead of blocking claims and appeals, VA leaders must quickly improve the accuracy of VA claim decisions by hiring and training staff to follow existing laws. That includes a 2004 law, ignored by VA, that requires VA to expedite claim appeals. While computers should shorten claim and appeal processing time, veterans are far better served when there is greater accountability for VA leaders unable to produce accurate and timely claim decisions."

Bergmann & Moore's blog on January 14 described the nearly one million new disability claims filed by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, which is certainly one of the main causes of the ongoing VA claims fiasco. And the firm's blog two days later reported the firestorm over VA’s proposed regulation to prevent 600,000 claims per year by mandating new forms. This is VA’s underhanded “Trojan Horse” to eliminate the backlog with a new regulation that effectively prevents about half of disabled veterans from filing a new claim or starting an appeal.

Do I even have to say it? This is completely untenable and unacceptable! It's time to get a new leader at VA!


  1. No matter if the bullet comes from the enemy or friendly fire, the effect is still the same. The VA doubles down on its shameful, disgraceful abuse of vets. Incompetence, or something darker?

  2. Delay, Deny, and Wait Until We Die! Terrible and tragic. I waited 8 long and painful years without care or benefits for VA to approve my claim, and it a took an attorney to fix VA! Bush was bad, and now Obama is bad. Not enough money and bad leaders mean VA constantly fails and f***s up.

  3. you know your comment really does not pass the muster, yes Bush was bad, but to say president Obama is bad also or even putting president Obama in the same category is complete lunacy. I am sorry you waited years, but you know what at least you got it. There are Vietnam vets who are still waiting. I also noticed how you left out the current republican controled house and republicans in the Senate. After all they are the ones who voted down the expansion of vet benefits, also voted down more funding for the VA. So i ask you this, were is your condemnation for them?


    1. Nice try. But my condemnation is right here . And it's right here I write about Republicans hurting veterans all the time. Please read before you speak.

  4. There's nothing new here as any Vietnam veteran will tell you. The politicians who send our people to wage their wars don't care about the bloody consequences of their actions.

  5. Obama is not in the same category as Bush. He's worse -- a Bill of Rights shredding poseur who sold out the people who voted for him in 2008.

    1. Disagree. Both have their issues, as I have always said. But Obama did not get us into a totally unnecessary war in Iraq by lying to the American people. It cost us thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of casualties.