Veterans Administration Scales Back Efforts to Reduce Veterans Benefit Backlog

The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, an Obama appointee, just announced he would no longer require government employed VA claims processors to work more than 40 hours per week. Once again, hundreds of thousands of veterans suffering from debilitating physical and mental injuries will continue to wait, veterans suicides will increase, all because our VA workforce cannot handle an additional 20 hours of paid overtime each month.

Most Americans are not aware of the magnitude of gross negligence that exists at the Veterans Administration. American veterans numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who have given of themselves in service to our country—currently denied treatment—watch as their lives and families are torn apart, all because our wasteful and bloated government will no longer authorize mandatory claims processing personnel overtime.

Last week, the House Subcommittee on Veterans Disability and Military Funerals held hearings to discuss VA claims processing deficiencies, accountability and solutions. One of the sworn witnesses, Mrs. Bettye McNutt, a widow of a Vietnam Veteran testified about her decade’s long struggle to secure a fair hearing on her VA claim.

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In 1987, Bettye McNutt’s husband succumbed to a particularly aggressive form of cancer—caused by his exposure to Agent Orange—leaving Mrs. McNutt to raise and provide for the couple’s son alone. In 1990, Mrs. McNutt filed a claim with the Veterans Administration. To date Mrs. McNutt lives without a resolution on twenty three year old VA claim.

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Her testimony was both heart wrenching and exasperating.

Year after year, this military widow and her young son would suffer through countless VA claims processing errors, failed appeals, and bare cupboards and disconnected utility services, only to—once again—be denied because the VA had yet to except fully the connection between Agent Orange exposure and veteran cancers.

Today, the Veterans Administration is claiming to have made historic headway in reducing claims backlogs, enough headway that Veterans Administration Secretary Shinseki is drawing down his administrative troops. It is all a lie and a ruse.

With hundreds of thousands of veteran’s claims yet to be processed, the VA is claiming recent efforts have reduced the claims backlog (the number of veterans waiting more than 125 days for a claims response) by more than on third. In reality, the VA has only reduced the wait time for veterans seeking a status change to their existing disability claim. Status changes like adding or dropping a spouse or child, not those claims of veterans with complex claims awaiting care.

Complex claims (ex. cases of multiple injuries involving loss of use of hand combined with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or back injury combined with traumatic brain injury) are still the overwhelming majority of outstanding VA claims filling Veterans Administration backlogs. Because of their complexity, these cases are the most difficult and time consuming to process and rate.

Under new VA procedural guidelines, these claims are also some of the last to be processed. Why? Because the VA does not have enough experienced claims processing personnel and mandatory training regiments are neglected; leaving the bulk of those veterans (and their families) with complex claims relegated to endless waits with uncertain outcomes.

Many more veterans—demoralized by the nightmarish experiences of their fellow warriors—refuse to look toward the VA for the help and benefits they earned and are entitled to receive. These veterans would rather live their lives without VA help than subject themselves to the poor treatment experienced by their fellow soldiers at the hands of an unresponsive VA.

In 2013, the Veterans Administration was granted a budget increase of 8.5 %. The VA was also exempted from sequestration cuts and for 17 days, this past October (during the government shutdown) all furloughed VA employees received full pay for missed time at work. Like all years prior, less than 50% of the VA budget (current year increases included) will go directly to the care of our veterans.

Moreover, Secretary Shinseki is worried about overexerting his staff. He is genuinely concerned about “diminishing returns?” This man should be fired.

Mrs. McNutt’s testimony put it all in perspective for me. I hope her words ring through for all civilian Americans. Mrs. McNutt said it simply, “The VA is just waiting for me to die.”

No jobs, no healthcare, no support, but they have one hell of a crisis prevention 1-800 number.

This is how America treats those who responded to the call to protect us? In addition, we just sit at home and bellyache about Obamacare and minimum wage increases. I would be ashamed to look Mrs. McNutt in the eye. She has been betrayed by her fellow citizens, as are our all veterans.

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