In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama promised his administration “will keep faith with our veterans [by] investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.”
But the reality for former members of the armed forces is often a multiple-year wait for claims to be filed through the Veterans Administration for health benefits and retirement pay. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who said in a recent interview that “[n]o veteran should have to wait for claims” and is himself a retired four-star general, created a 2000 percent backlog increase for applications for veterans’ benefits, with 900,000 unprocessed disability claims remaining today. By the VA’s own projections, that number will quickly surpass 1,000,000.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, that unimaginable backlog means every day, 53 soldiers die needlessly at the hands of bureaucrats and red tape while waiting in line for basic service. If those claims are ever processed, the error rate in paperwork is 14%, with some cities like Baltimore and Detroit reporting far worse statistics.
The problem is hardly due to lack of funding. Secretary Shinseki has said repeatedly that he has more than adequate resources to fix the problem and the “buck stops” with him. While some federal departments have dealt with cuts and furloughs, the VA received $25 billion in additional funding since 2009. And apparently, no amount of money can fix an outdated computer system which does not allow our troops to seamlessly move from the military to the VA, even after $1 billion of your tax dollars was spent on supposed “upgrades.” Today, only 3% of claims have been digitally converted, leaving the other 97% to old-fashioned physical paperwork, with single cases taking up thousands of pages.
After returning from combat, the problems for our troops are endless. Mental diseases, domestic abuse, drug abuse, home foreclosures, and even homelessness are far too common among veterans trying to return to civilian life. And because of these issues, employers are frequently unwilling to take the risk and hire veterans, which is why the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets is 9.4%.
President Obama, who campaigned on a platform of bringing our troops home, clearly had no serious plan about what to do when they came home. The Obama Administration only compounded the issue by rightfully allowing Vietnam Veterans to adjust their claims for injuries resulting from Agent Orange, without having a reasonable structure for processing those amended claims first.
To treat military veterans and their families this way is a national disgrace. And as tens of thousands of troops demobilize in the next 2 years, the situation will only get worse for these American patriots. If Shinseki was running a corporation, his board of directors would have been dismissed long ago. The inability to organize veterans services across the country and to misuse so much taxpayer money while veterans wait hundreds of days for service is unacceptable.
If President Obama is interested in accountability, results, and keeping promises, he should ask for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation and find someone else to lead VA.