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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

THE SHAME OF OUR COUNTRY

I was watching Rachel Maddow’s show the other night, and what she was reporting on struck a real nerve with me, particularly since WonderWife has a problem with the VA. It took her 2 years to get certified to go to the VA here in WhiteRepublicanLand for her health benefits. I am glad that at least she got that – but we’re still waiting for her to get her disability benefits – for almost 3 years now.

Reminds me of the Rudyard Kipling poem, TOMMY. Yes, this sort of mistreatment of veterans has been going on that long. I include the poem here:

Rudyard Kipling

Tommy

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

(My thanks to the Poetry Lover’s page: http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/tommy.html)

According to the VA, they’ve put a computer system in place to speed the process of adjudicating claims. It doesn’t seem to be working. According to the VA, they’re doing the best that they can. Well, gangers, trust me: If this is the BEST that the VA can do, what’s the worst?

This is a national shame. And it's a national disgrace, as well.

The VA backlog is decades old, and mythic in size. Politicians speak of rooms waist-high in paperwork, a building that sags under the weight of unprocessed forms. At the start of 2012, it was taking the VA 188 days to resolve a veteran's claim. At the end of this year, that number had increased to 262 days. "We feel like the backlog is unacceptable," says Tommy Sowers, assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the VA. But, he says, the VA has made it easier for more veterans to qualify for benefits. By doing so, it also made the backlog longer. "We say that for Vietnam veterans, that we should open it up make it easier to file a claim on Agent Orange-related diseases," Sowers explains. "That means more claims are going to come in the door. When we make it easier for veterans to be diagnosed and treated for post traumatic stress, that means more claims are going to come in the door."

The VA has also made it easier for veterans to seek benefits for traumatic brain injury. All these changes mean the VA has been running in place - which is not a recipe for any sort of success. It has processed about 1 million claims a year, but more than 1 million new ones keep coming in. Sowers says the VA will turn the corner — but not soon. "I wish I could give you an answer that next month we could just throw more resources at this and eliminate [the backlog]," Sowers says. "We can't. This problem has been decades in the making and it's going to take a few years to fix." The fixes mostly involve changing from a paper system to an electronic one. VA officials say to watch for improvements in 2014, and for the backlog to be eliminated in 2015. The error rate now hovers around 14 percent, and the mountainous backlog stands at nearly 900,000, as 53 veterans reportedly die each day waiting for their benefits.

This is completely unacceptable.

In December, 2012, the VA touted its “paperless, digital disability claims system” as “a lasting solution that will transform how we operate and eliminate the claims backlog.” However, at the four Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional offices where the new system was deployed under a pilot program, OIG found it took even longer to process a claim than the VA's old paper system. Despite that failure, 18 regional offices have begun the conversion to the new system, and the remaining 38 are expected to make the switch by the end of the year. “VBA should immediately develop and implement a robust plan so that its computer system operates properly and VBA can begin processing claims in an accurate and timely manner,” says Paul Sullivan, a longtime veterans' advocate and director of veteran outreach at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that focuses solely on veteran disability issues. “Veterans are justifiably frustrated at the deteriorating claims crisis, especially the lack of planning to fix it. Nearly one million veterans now wait nine months for a VBA decision that is wrong as much as 30 percent of the time. How many of our veterans will die waiting for a VBA claim decision that is often wrong?” In a written response to the OIG’s criticisms, the VA said the “excessive” emphasis in the report on the problems with the new electronic claims processing system is “misplaced,” and that while it has taken steps to resolve the issues identified during the rollout of the new system, it expects to “address risks and issues as they are identified.”

“I hear from veterans all the time who are distraught because they are waiting for a claim to be adjudicated,” says Anthony Hardie, a veterans' advocate and Gulf War veteran who’s testified numerous times before Congress on Gulf War Illness and other issues. “There’s a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling that you are up against an uncaring, unfeeling bureaucracy. It can be overwhelming. When I left the military in 1993 there was a claims backlog,” he says. “Twenty years later there is still a claims backlog. It makes my blood boil.”

So, what’s the solution?

Well, for starters, the VA could hire an outside company to FIX what’s wrong with the system. Yoohoo? Apple? Microsoft? Dell? Any of y’all have a system that could actually work right? Secondly, they could also hire a lot of the unemployed vets to do nothing but data input. Thirdly, they could hire a lot of the unemployed vets to do NOTHING but double-check the data input with the hard copies of the claims, and they could keep these people ON the payroll to do the same jobs. SAP software has applications that, once they’re set up and running, will sort the claims in order of age and expedite them. Once this is done, the VA and the FedGov will have solved several problems. One, the claims will be processed in a timely fashion. Two, the dilemma of unemployed vets will mostly be solved. Three, the system will save money. AND it will save lives as well.

Then, maybe, it won’t be a case of “Tommy this and Tommy that, and Tommy get behind”. Instead, it will be a case of all of us realizing that, but for the thin khaki line, we might just be in one hell of a lot more trouble than any of us like to admit.











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