According to an article in the New York Times the VA has processed over a million claims for the third straight year. Sounds like a stellar performance, right? It well may be. Unless you're one of the 890,000 vets still waiting.
So what's the problem? Largely it's an issue of scale against a system. Sure, there are fewer vets from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You've heard this statistic before: these wars are being fought by less than 1 percent of our population. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but that 1% translates to more than 2.3 million soldiers, sailors and marines, of whom nearly half have more than one deployment. The nature of these wars with their IED's and multiple deployments means multiple injuries and complicated claims.
At the end of May Marilynn Marchione, Chief Medical Writer for the Associated Press wrote that the average number of ailments on these claims is eight to nine. Claims coming in from the last year may have as many as eleven to fourteen. Here's a little perspective on that: the average number of ailments from Vietnam war vets is four; from World War II and Korea, it drops down to two. Inundated and backlogged even before this wave of returning vets hit, the VA is struggling.
Training, teams to process complicated claims and digital technology will all help. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki says that improvements in place by 2015 will reduce the processing time to 125 days That's still over four months.
How does that play out? The widow of a World War II vet waits two years for benefits; here at the NVF, veterans on our staff wait months for education benefits to be paid.
Let me cut to the bottom line here: we can't wait, and we can't ask these veterans to wait. We need some real leadership to step up, acknowledge the facts, and start working to fund the infrastructure needed to take care of these vets, now.
In an election year, the voices of vets go largely unheard, over-ridden by other concerns. But what kind of a society asks its sons and daughters to sacrifice themselves for our freedoms, and then neglects them when they return to us?
Look around. You're standing in the middle of the answer to that question. Speak up. Call your senator, your representatives. Talk to people. It's our responsibility to look after these veterans. It's time for action. From the top down, yes, but also from ordinary citizens.
The most effective place to start? With your local representatives, state and federal. You can find them here.
Emails work, phone calls work, and letters have even more power. Even short ones. Let's get this done! The job just gets bigger and bigger.
Do your part for them. They sacrificed for you.