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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chicago Tribune Reports on VA Claims Process Quandary

Headline splashed across the front page of today's Chicago Tribune: The Cost of War.

Analyzing more than 3 million VA disability claims (this figure equals the number of vets receiving such compensation in 2009 -- a jump of 24 percent over the 2003 total), it is the latest in a long line of government and private studies on problems at the VA. The Trib found:

The bulk of the increases didn't come from veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but from those who served years or even decades before. Veterans from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf eras accounted for roughly 84 percent of the rise in spending, which hit $34.3 billion last year.

The surge from past eras comes even as more soldiers than expected are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of care. With hundreds of thousands of troops still deployed, the VA already provides disability payments to nearly 200,000 veterans from the current conflicts, a number that is expected to balloon during the next 30 years.

The unanticipated crush of claims is exacerbated by the VA's antiquated compensation system, which hasn't been overhauled since 1945. Cumbersome and heavily bureaucratic, the system requires a mountain of paperwork, is based on diagnoses that lag far behind medical advances and runs on a computer system that is so outdated it can't accurately verify whether veterans were deployed.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

So, a claims backlog of anywhere from 500,000 all the way up to one million -- with veterans waiting between 120 days to two years for relief -- shouldn't come as a surprise. The resulting frustration and disillusionment with the whole process shouldn't either.

Continuing:

"Are we appropriately compensating veterans? The answer to that is really no," said Lonnie Bristow, a former president of the American Medical Association who chaired a 2007 Institute of Medicine study on the VA's compensation system. "It's not for a lack of good intent; it's because they are using a screwdriver and hammer to make a jet fighter." ...

The VA's acting undersecretary for benefits, Mike Walcoff, said the Obama administration has fought for an unprecedented increase in funding to tackle problems facing the agency. He said the agency is working on multiple fronts, including developing a paperless computer system, improving communication with the military and developing pilot programs to streamline the claims process. ...

Since 2001, Congress has approved $944 billion to fund the global war on terror, and less than 1 percent was set aside to care for veterans, according to the Congressional Research Service.

From the beginning of the current wars, the Bush administration woefully underestimated the number of veterans who would seek disability compensation, forcing the VA to play catch up just as an aging veteran population added to its workload.

When U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, officials estimated that about 50,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan would eventually seek disability benefits from the VA. Seven years later, about 500,000 veterans from those wars have put in claims and the VA already provides more than $1 billion in compensation benefits to 180,000. A recent Institute of Medicine study found that claims from the current wars won't peak until 2040.

Read it in full.

While I commend the Trib for covering the issue -- esp on their front page -- today, the news really isn't anything that we haven't seen and heard before. Except for the updated figures, one or two clicks on any of the below related links will take you to much the same information.

Sigh.


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