Commentary by Amber Barno, a Military Adviser at Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit amberbarno.com and @AmberBarno.
From data breaches to backlogs to Obamacare style health care, one thing is certain; the current status of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is nothing short of disastrous.
Poor oversight, lack of leadership and accountability, and pure disregard for treating our veterans as customers rather than an annoyance, have all contributed to the systemic failures within the bureaucracy today. Holding VA leadership accountable for their actions and performance is the first step in fixing the problem that is hurting hundreds of thousands of veterans each and every day.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-S.C.), said it best earlier this month that the VA backlog is a “national embarrassment.”
A pin-decorated jacket during the 48th annual Auburn Veterans Day Parade in downtown Auburn, Wash Saturday Nov. 9, 2013. The parade is one of the largest parades to honor veterans in the country. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)
"As the nation’s military stands down from its war footing, veterans should not have to wage another battle here at home, this time against government bureaucracy," Burr said. It is time to start treating the substantial array of problems within the VA that our veterans are suffering from everyday as a national priority.
Despite what VA officials have said regarding their progress with the backlog and overall claims process, they can’t hide from the numbers. While it is appreciated that the VA has increased the amount of claims processed, the backlog problem is not fixed, and on its current course, will not be fixed by the VA imposed deadline of 2015.
The backlog claims numbers, both new and appeals, speaks volumes about the systemic bureaucracy that is failing our veterans and its inability to fix itself. Nearly 700,000 veterans are waiting on the outcome of their new claims or appeals. While most new claims get answers within 266 days, if a veteran appeals a claim they can expect to wait 1,598 days for a response.
A veteran looks at the names of those who died etched into the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, ahead of Memorial Day in Washington, Sunday, May 26, 2013. Credit: AP
Those are unacceptable wait times. What is even more appalling is that despite our veterans suffering, little to nothing has actually been done to address the problem.
Here are the current numbers of veterans waiting on the outcome of their VA claims (as of Feb. 22, 2014):
Claims Backlog: 672,999
Over 125 days Backlog: 389,861
Appeals Backlog: 272,110
Massive ambiguous bills, like the one introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aren’t going to solve the problems that have been plaguing the VA and veterans for years. Even though the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) have been reinstated for "working age" military retirees, there is no need to throw more money at the VA that will not address any of its primary problems.
The VA has never had a funding issue. It has the resources, and personnel to get the job done. What it doesn’t have is the accountability incentive needed to breakdown the layers of bureaucracy that are hindering its ability to properly serve the needs of our military veterans.
We need to see real, tangible VA reform that will allow accountability to do what it does best: Hold people responsible for their performance.
[sharequote align="center"]Hold people responsible for their performance.[/sharequote]
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced a bill that would do just that.
The VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 would provide the secretary of the VA the authority to fire or demote other executive service officials within the VA. This is the kind of action we need to see in order to see realistic results. Putting accountability back into the management system is a common sense solution that will benefit both VA employees and veterans alike.
Naturally, leaders within the VA oppose the bill and believe that the current punitive measures in place are enough to properly manage their employees, but recent reports indicate that there have been 31 preventable deaths of veterans at VA medical centers. No one in the VA associated with those deaths have been fired.
VA reform must become a priority in order for the organization to adequately serve those who have sacrificed for our nation. Veterans volunteered to protect our nation when duty called. At a minimum, as a nation, we must ensure our veterans aren’t forgotten about when it matters most. Holding leaders accountable for their actions at the VA is the first step in ensuring our veterans are receiving the best service and quality care they deserve.
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