Ending the VA Backlog is like trying to disassemble the Hoover Dam with a rock hammer. Despite vocal pushes in the media by veterans’ support groups, media figures like Jon Stewart, and even politicians themselves, the backlog persists. Yet, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the rest of the VA staff are hammering away at it as much as humanly possible. One of the largest contributors to the backlog is that until recently, 97 percent of VA claims were filed on paper. However a recent Los Angeles Times article recognizes how the new computer system VistA will speed up the process exponentially.
However, there is no progress the VA can make that Congress can’t impede. With this latest budget showdown – in which the House Republicans have threatened to shut down the government if the Affordable Healthcare Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, is not defunded in the latest budget. Whether political posturing or simple inevitability – both the President and the Senate have rejected this proposal – the VA will be among the numerous federal agencies that will feel the impact.
USA Today reports that a memo issued by VA chief of staff Jose Riojas says that if the government shuts down, “as many as 62,000 employees” will face temporary furlough. The VA will still employ essential personnel directly associated with providing healthcare to veterans, leaving many of the furloughs to fall on the claims processors, who up until now have been working as much as 20 hours a week in mandatory overtime. Other employees furloughed will be those who manage veterans’ life insurance policies, including those who process claims for that as well.
Still, each case in the backlog is tied to an individual veteran, each with his or her own story. For example, take the case of the late Raymond Fafard and his wife Johnette. Raymond was drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam from 1970-1971. Like many soldiers, Raymond’s Bronze star and Purple Heart were never awarded due to the high officer losses in the war. Later, in 1979, he applied to the VA because he as suffering from both PTSD and Parkinson’s Disease as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
On February 25, 2013, Raymond died at the age of 63, still without the satisfaction of being awarded the medals he earned in combat or the comfort knowing that his family would be taken care of by his long-withheld benefits. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., heard about the Fafard case and has assigned a staffer to help Johnette navigate the system. Her fight with the VA continues, but she can take some solace in the fact that Raymond was posthumously awarded his medals in early September.
Despite the political blustering, the threat of government shutdown is reckless and shows complete disdain for the millions of Americans, including veterans, who depended on the institutions of government to work for them. It would be a shame to be in the beginnings of having the VA do just that, only to shut down the government in order to make a dramatic campaign commercial for next year’s mid-term elections.
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(c) 2013 – Veteran Journal. All Rights Reserved.
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