There’s no shortage of money and manpower to fulfill the country’s moral obligation to care for its injured military veterans. So why are hundreds of thousands of veterans forced to wait a year or more to have their disability claims processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs?
The answer can be found in an abject failure of leadership.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, thinks there is a culture of complacency contributing to the claim backlog. His office reports that the average VA field worker processed 135 claims a year in 1997. In 2012, the average was 73 cases a year.
Layered onto that is an outdated system for processing the claims. Despite spending $1 billion on the effort, the VA and the Department of Defense have failed to create a centralized computer system for moving records between the two agencies. In other words, the two departments are unable to share health information about veterans in an efficient way, adding to the delays.
The White House and the VA have unveiled plans to attack the backlog. Predictably, the White House wants to increase the funding for processing veterans benefits, by 13.6 percent. Forgive us for being skeptical of that solution.
It is beyond comprehension that a solution for digitalizing records and unclogging backlogged claims has eluded the VA. Clearly, it has not been for a lack of funding. The VA’s budget has grown from $98 billion in 2009 to $140 billion this year, among the largest of any government agency.
That leaves leadership to shoulder the blame. Eric Shinseki, the VA’s secretary since 2009, says the backlog can be eliminated by 2015.
The nation will be watching.