Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who broke the VA? Veterans didn't but everyone else did!

Who Really Broke Veterans Affairs?
It stains the legacies of presidents as far back as John F. Kennedy.
National Journal
By Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper
May 20, 2014
Miller's own branch of government, however, cannot claim clean hands.

The VA could be overhauled to better address the needs of modern veterans, including reforms to the way it processes claims, assesses the performance of its employees, and measures its overall performance. But putting many of those reforms in place would require an act of Congress—and thus far those haven't happened.

Instead, Congress has taken a more reactive approach. When incidents—such as the recent hospital deaths—capture public attention, lawmakers hold hearings where they berate agency officials with juicy sound bites they can later play back for their constituents. It's good political theater, but it's unclear that the payoff is anything other than political.

"Congress has been totally exasperated by the VA's inability to get on top of the problem for a long time," said Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School. "But they haven't been willing to really contemplate anything other than throwing more money at the problem."
President George W. Bush

The Bush administration sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, but when those troops came home injured, the Defense Department failed to adequately communicate it to the agency tasked with helping them.

Early on, the department was publicly counting only about a third of the casualties stemming from the War on Terror. That was because the Department was only counting servicemen and women immediately targeted in the department's wounded-in-action statistics. That accounting method left out those who were not targeted but were wounded nonetheless, such as troops injured when they were riding two trucks back from one that was hit by a roadside bomb, or those hurt in training or transportation.(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The underreporting made it more difficult for the VA to prepare for the coming influx of requests for help. The poor sharing of information—including medical records—between the two agencies has long been a bone of contention, and it remains a challenge (albeit one that is improving) to this day.

"It's not surprising, really, that the VA ended up being poorly prepared for what happened, given the way that they were planning," said Harvard Kennedy School's Bilmes. "There was absolutely a lack of planning, a lack of capacity for planning. ... They didn't know what hit them. They were completely overwhelmed."

Additionally, the VA's claims-processing time skyrocketed early in the Bush years. In 2002, it took the VA an average of 224 days to complete claims, as compared with 166 days in 1999.
read more here

The answer is, everyone did. Presidents, a long list of them going back generations. Congress did and again, a long list of who was who when what was going on. But overall truth is all of us did because we wave flags when we send them off and if the war goes on too long, we don't want to pay for anything we don't have to pay attention to. So here are a few reminders.
Stolen Data Includes Details on 2.2 Million Troops Initial VA Report Asserted Only Veterans Affected by Burglary

SEN. PATTY MURRAY CALLS FOR HEARING ON VA MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES -- Murray cites VA's Dr. Frances Murphy who says waiting lists make VA mental health care "virtually inaccessible."

You'll love this one from 2005
The Budget Resolution passed by both houses of Congress will result in staff reductions in every VA Medical Center at a most inauspicious time—as veterans return from the war in Iraq and as increasing numbers of veterans need care from the system, said Thomas H. Corey, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The impact will be significant among those returning troops who suffer from mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), those who have sustained loss of limbs, and other serious injuries.

This one puts it in a nutshell.....
VA Secretary Is Ending a Trying Tenure
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

R. James Nicholson, the secretary of veterans affairs, resigned yesterday and said he would leave his post by Oct. 1, ending a tenure marked by the largest data breach in the federal government's history and sharp criticism of the care given to injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an interview, Nicholson said he first considered leaving his position at the government's second-largest department in February and recently made the decision final, in part because he will turn 70 next year and wants to get back into the private sector. He does not have a job lined up, he said.

"My yearn to get back into the business world is strong," said Nicholson, adding that he was not asked to step down. "It is a good time -- if there ever is a good time -- to leave the VA. There were no frustrations causing me to think about resigning. . . . This job is so big and our mission is so multifaceted that there are always frustrations, so that was not a factor."

Senior managers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and officials of veterans groups said the resignation came as a complete surprise. A few employees who saw the video conference in which Nicholson made his announcement said he became emotional.

The agency has faced considerable criticism for its treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as they move from the military health-care system to VA's, and for its chronically slow processing of disability claims by injured or sick veterans from all eras. Critics complain about lost paperwork, a shortage of VA caseworkers, a caseload of 400,000 pending disability claims and long waits for initial appointments in the VA health-care system.

The criticism grew louder this year when The Washington Post revealed decrepit conditions and poor outpatient treatment of wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, though that facility is run by the Pentagon, not VA.

"I was surprised at the number of people, even the number of members of Congress, that thought Walter Reed was a VA hospital," Nicholson said. "So it did have an impact on us." President Bush chose Nicholson to lead a Cabinet-level task force that studied how to improve the care of returning veterans.

VA leaders came under fire again two months ago for awarding $3.8 million in bonuses to top executives in fiscal 2006 -- a time when the department was struggling to clear its backlog of disability claims and expand care as the number of newly injured veterans returning from overseas spiked.

Other trials included the theft last summer of a VA laptop computer and external hard drive containing personal information of 26.5 million veterans, and a $1 billion budget shortfall in 2005 that prompted Nicholson to go to Capitol Hill to ask for more money.

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