January 16, 2013. Washington. When history looks back at how the Bush and Obama administrations treated America’s broken and dying sons and daughters, soldiers they personally sent off to die in far off wars, it won’t look back kindly. Not only do 16 veterans commit suicide every single day, 55 die each day waiting for VA benefits they’ll never receive. And contrary to the promises of government officials, it’s still getting worse.
We don't make them wait in line a year and a half at the grocery store or DMV. Why do we tolerate it at the VA? Image courtesy of YoungPatriots.com.
That’s the opinion of a new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR is credited by veterans’ organizations like Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) as being “one of the few journalistic outlets keeping track of the long record of incompetence and dysfunction at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The CVA’s Pete Hegseth goes on to say, “In last year’s Presidential campaign, veterans’ issues were almost completely absent from the debate – an unfortunate reality, given the great need as personnel return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But given this latest national embarrassment for the VA, as one Congressman says in the Daily Beast story, it’s time for VA reform to make its way to the top of the agenda in 2013.”
As detailed in the investigative report by Aaron Glantz and the Center for Investigative Reporting, the most recent VA data available shows that vets are dying in ever greater numbers before their benefits are approved. In fact, they say the numbers aren’t just going up, they’re “skyrocketing”. One example illustrating that trend is the fact that in FY2008, 6,400 veterans died before the VA would approve their disability pay. In FY2011, that number had tripled to 19,500.
Depending on who one asks, there are two reasons for the enormous and tragic backlog – one good, one bad. According to the VA, the increased number of vets waiting longer for their life-sustaining benefits is good, as it means that more vets are applying for benefits and taking advantage of the system. Veterans groups are nothing short of insulted at the insinuation by the Obama administration that this situation, where tens of thousands of veterans are dying, is a good thing.
Instead, veterans and their supporters say the average wait time from when a veteran is denied disability benefits to when a final decision is made has increased over the past couple years. It varies from city to city and region to region. But the CIR report shows that the average wait time for veterans benefits was 15 months in Chicago, 16 months in New York and 18 months in Los Angeles.
It’s bad enough that the Social Security and Veterans Administrations have a standard procedure where they automatically deny disability benefits to pretty much everyone, even people with no arms and legs – seriously. It’s part of the government’s strategy to cut down on payouts. They know that denying benefits to everyone on their first attempt results in a percentage of those applicants dying or giving up rather than appealing the rejection. In the industry, it’s called “slippage”.
The SSA and VA are correct in that a hefty percentage of fraudulent disability claims are avoided by making the process so painful and drawn-out, that fraudsters don’t waste their time. But mixed in with those thousands of con artists are hundreds of thousands of legitimately disabled veterans – some from Iraq and Afghanistan and some from as far back as World War 2. And when the VA rejects their claims, they’re admittedly heart broken and panicked. With their hopes of financial help dashed, 19,500 a year give up and either commit suicide or stop fighting for their lives and succumb to their affliction.
In episodes that have repeated tens of thousands of times over in the past few years, injured, wounded and disabled vets are committing suicide to remove the burden from their cash and emotion strapped spouses and children. They convince themselves that they’re worth more to their family dead than alive. Unfortunately, the VA and SSA agencies are the ones instilling this opinion by refusing to pay out legitimate benefit payments to the newly returned troops.
The VA and the numbers
With the number of needless and senseless veteran deaths passing crisis proportions long ago, Concerned Veterans of America points out the blatant denial by VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki. CVA quotes his address to the VFW convention this past summer:
‘In July, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, NV., where he trumpeted the VA’s accomplishments over the past four years in handling claims and providing services and support to veterans in need. Gen. Shinseki noted that when he took the helm in 2009, the VA inventory of pending claims was about 400,000. Today it is about 880,000.’
The veterans group goes on to remind vets that in 2009, the number of veteran claims older than 125 days was 135,000. In 2011, that number had grown to 580,000. The organization also questions the alleged hiring of 4,000 new VA employees since 2008. That action should have reduced the backlog, not added to it.
As one veteran reminded us, it’s bad enough for the vets who’ve been waiting so long they’re dying. But the ones coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan now, wounded or otherwise, they’re not going to get their first benefit check until the middle of 2014, and that’s only if they’re lucky.
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