Letter to the Editor,
Thank you for a fantastic article about the problems veterans face obtaining disability compensation payments for their military-related medical problems from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“Insult to Injury,” by Lisa Sorg, March 14, 2007). Link: http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A46354
Here’s more bad news. The problem is very serious for older veterans, and it is getting even worse for new veterans. More than 180,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans already filed disability claims against the VA, further increasing the backlog of delays and bureaucratic red tape. As the wars continue to escalate, based on current trends, new war veterans will file hundreds of thousands of more claims against the VA.
There are three solutions to the VA’s claims crisis. First, veterans should be able to hire attorneys, and Congress moved in that direction last year, as you reported. Today, when a veteran gets a reject letter from the VA, the veteran should send in a “notice of disagreement” right away and hire a lawyer to avoid the two years it takes for VA to process appeals. Veterans should be able to hire an attorney for their initial claim so they are on equal footing with the hundreds of lawyers working for the VA.
Second, the VA should immediately hire and train more claims processors so veterans and their families can put food on the table. Veterans shouldn’t be forced to suffer from bad credit, evictions, foreclosures and worse because the VA didn’t hire more staff to deal with the surge in new claims from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
And, third, the VA needs a massive overhaul. To do that, the agency needs to think outside the box. Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes testified before Congress last week that the VA should grant all new claims because it approves nearly 90 percent anyway. Then the VA can audit the completed claims for fraud and problems. There are two bills, S117 and S713, that provide practical solutions now. Call Congress and demand these bills be debated and enacted.
If the VA doesn’t act now, not only will the crisis worsen, our war veterans will needlessly suffer, and that’s not right. When our veterans need medical care and benefits, they should get them right away.
Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense