Aug. 1, 2008 – This is supporting our troops? We don’t think so. Injured vets, in some cases, are losing their homes and other possessions waiting to receive disability benefits from the government.
Yes, we know the list of men and women needing help is extensive.
In fact, each month, about 1,800 veterans seek guidance in applying for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Detroit office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, reports Gary Putinski, a VFW service officer.
In addition, another 7,500 injured veterans or family members go to one of the three Oakland County Veterans’ Services offices for help each year.
Many served between World War II and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, said division manager Diana Calvin.
The VFW and other organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America help injured veterans and their families work through the bureaucratic maze of paperwork to get monthly financial assistance.
But the organizations are barely keeping up.
The number of veterans needing benefits in Oakland County alone has increased by several percent each year since the Iraq War started in March 2003.
Lack of money and manpower to help veterans seek benefits are primary problems.
“We’re not going to get more money,” Calvin said of the division that is funded by Oakland County to the tune of $2 million this year.
Because funds are tight, she says the county’s Veterans’ Services Division is going to close its Walled Lake office and transfer workers to the Pontiac office effective Oct. 1. There’s also a third office in Troy.
However, there are only 12 counselors in Calvin’s division to help thousands of veterans file paperwork to receive benefits.
The system is overwhelmed, local and state veterans officials say.
“We’re actually tightening our belt,” Calvin said, noting five workers recently took severance offers.
“Unfortunately, when we lose a counselor, the workload has to be absorbed by the remaining counselors. It’s a lot more difficult. We’re spread out too thin.”
Depending upon the case, it takes the average veteran three months to a year to get benefits for which he has applied.
This is absolutely too long. It’s easy to see where veterans can lose their homes and other possessions with such delays in receiving what they rightfully deserve.
Ironically, money allocated by Congress in recent years to help veterans increased. The current federal VA medical budget is $39.1 billion and is scheduled to increase next year to more than $42 billion.
Supporting the troops is more than just sending them care packages when they are overseas and cheering their return.
Veterans need to be shown appreciation and given physical, psychological, job placement and financial help when needed once they’ve returned home and back to their civilian lives.
It’s not just the patriotic or compassionate thing to do, but the right thing to do.
Where funds are available, a priority needs to be placed on more efficiently distributing the money. If there’s not enough funds to help veterans apply for benefits, then the money needs to be found.
Helping all veterans, particularly disabled veterans, once they are home should be a top priority.
If we can’t help them after they’ve returned, then supporting the troops is no more than lip service.