Thursday, June 18, 2009

In VA backlog, a one in a million, you!

Chaplain Kathie

You've read about the backlog of claims increasing and a lot of their stories about being trapped in the waiting line. While this piece on AP may not be news to you, you should read it because it has several stories about veterans, not just numbers. These are real people, with real lives, real families and real wounds.

Aside from the economy getting in the way of them finding work after they served in the military, the National Guards have a harder time because if they are still active, employers don't want to risk hiring them and see them redeploy again. There is also the issue of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan being viewed as "damaged" because too many do not understand what PTSD is or the fact there are different levels of it. Mild PTSD, if they have it, does not make them unemployable nor does it make them hard to work with. As a matter of fact, if they are treated for mild PTSD the result is a better employee. Considering they survived combat, if nothing else, it shows they care about others and are able to think fast on their feet. They are able to follow instructions and usually dutifully follow orders of superiors. One other factor to consider is that if they are able to work and they are hired, there is also the sense of appreciation for giving them a job and you have a grateful employee.

For chronic or high level of PTSD when they cannot work, there is nothing for them while their claim is trapped in the backlog. They are just one in a million waiting for what they already earned. That's right, they earned it. They earned it by saying they would go and risk their lives, ending up wounded for having done it. The VA compensation is not a hand out, or as some Republican elected have stated in the past, welfare.

(If you are stunned by this, then you do not watch CSPAN and hear their own words coming out of their mouths. Hearings have been going on for many years and when the Republicans had control over the funding, their excuse for not increasing the VA budget to meet the challenge of taking care of the wounded warriors was there was not enough discretionary money to do it. It was really easy for them to be in front of a group of veterans when they wanted their votes to say they appreciated their service and then make statements against veterans on the floor of Congress. Senator John McCain was one of them. Check his voting record when it comes to veterans then maybe I can stop hearing how much better he would have been as President. As bad as it is, at least President Obama has increased funding and is trying to fix the mess the VA is in. While he has a long way to go, McCain wanted to hand out cards so that veterans could just go to private doctors and disappear. )

What is being done has not stopped the backlog of claims from increasing. It's time to take a good look at the lives these claims represent. These are our veterans!

One part of the citizens of this nation can get the veterans to seek help for PTSD, get them to understand what it is so that they realize there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of at all because they carry this wound. This translates into also getting older veterans to seek help at the same time newer veterans are seeking help and this cluster of veterans should have been foreseen. Plans should have been in place many years ago to prepare for this, but no one was paying attention. At the same time there were two military campaigns going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one was preparing for the increase in veterans needing care. Now they are trying to play catchup at the same time the numbers are increasing.

It's time to take a leap of faith in our veterans and just approve the claims already in the backlog. Stop looking for proof and just rate the ones already there, then take a look at them later when the emergency situation for them is over. Fraudulent claims are not the problem right now. In addressing fraudulent claims the VA should issue a warning that if a claim turns out to be fraudulent, then the claimant will not only have to repay the VA but will also have to pay with interest and other legal options are on the table. They should have the opportunity to remove their claim first, something along the line of a month before the other claims are to be approved. The new claims processors are not enough to meet the challenge right now, but when most of the backlog is cleared, they will have plenty of time to review the claims to make sure they are legitimate.

Congress has already taken a baby step in helping veterans with PTSD by making it easier to prove their claim. They will no longer have to find the stressor that caused PTSD and there is already an assumption of honesty in these veterans. So why not go all the way?

I know what suffering is when trying to have a claim approved and I know what it does to a PTSD veteran still struggling with the diagnosis along with what it all comes with. I know what it's like to see another denial in the mail being read by a veteran wounded by his service and then assaulted by the denial accusing him of lying. My husband saw his claim tied up for six years. He sought help but was forced to pay for his treatment because his claim was not approved. Our insurance company wouldn't pay for his mental health care, even though we were paying for it, because the VA doctors linked it to Vietnam. We nearly lost everything and I nearly lost him. Why was his claim tied up? A social security number typed wrong on his Bronze Star award. When he received it, he told his commander it had the wrong number on it and he was told they would correct it. It ended up on his DD214 but was not fixed all the way through the paperwork chain. Once this was corrected, his claim was approved but it took a general to do it.

How many others are suffering the same right now? How many in the backlog fast approaching a million? How many other families are seeing all hope slip away? How many are wondering what the words "grateful nation" really mean when they are living with the wound caused by serving this nation?

Number of VA claims poised to hit 1 millionBy KIMBERLY HEFLING – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Veterans Affairs Department appears poised to hit a milestone it would rather avoid: 1 million claims to process.

The milestone approaches as the agency scrambles to hire and train new claims processors, which can take two years. VA officials are working with the Pentagon under orders from President Barack Obama to create by 2012 a system that will allow the two agencies to electronically exchange records, a process now done manually on paper.

"They keep talking about a seamless transition, but I can tell you I haven't seen it being very seamless," said John Roberts of Houston, who is national service director for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project, which helps veterans such as David Odom, 29, of Haleyville, Ala.
Odom, a former Army staff sergeant who did three tours in Iraq, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. With symptoms such as anxiety and anger, he finds it difficult to work. He said he's waited months to learn the outcome of an appeal that would give him higher compensation.
"It's added quite a bit of stress because I don't know what's going to happen. I want to know either way so I can figure out what my next step is," Odom said.

Former Marine Cpl. Patrick Murray, 25, of Arlington, Va., who was severely burned and had his right leg amputated after a roadside bomb explosion in 2006, considers himself fortunate. He got a job once he was discharged from the military, making for an easier wait as his case is processed.
"For someone that gets out of the military and doesn't have a job lined up, they have no income," said Murray, who works for a construction company. "They are sitting there making zero money, either racking up credit card bills or taking out loans, whatever it may be, all the while waiting."
Murray said the first claim he filed was lost. The second ended up at a VA office in Colorado, and the third was finally processed after a couple of months. It was mind-boggling, he said, to have spent 11 months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center and in outpatient care with stacks of medical files, only to find out he had to mail his records to the VA to prove he was injured.
On the Net:
: Veterans Affairs Department
: House Committee on Veterans Affairs
: Wounded Warrior Project

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