Target: President Obama, Department of Veteran Affairs, Undersecretary of VA Benefits Allison Hickey
Goal: To call for the immediate refurbishing of the VA system so that veterans can get the health and disability benefits they need as soon as possible
Scott Eiswert was an Iraq war veteran who served one year abroad. Upon his homecoming, it became clear to his family and loved ones that Scott was not the same person he had been before deployment. He suffered from horrifying nightmares and was tortured by images of his fellow soldiers dead and dying in Iraq. Naturally, Scott turned to the Department of Veteran Affairs for some much-needed treatment. VA doctors and medical professionals diagnosed Scott with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), dyphoria (a mood disorder), and alcohol abuse. Then the VA denied him disability benefits. Shortly after, Scott Eiswert shot himself in the head and died in his home in Tennessee.
Tragically, this is becoming a far too common tale. Veterans who return home and are suffering have no choice but to turn to the VA for support, only to be told to wait in line, wait their turn. Many veterans, who should not have to wait at all, lose hope and end their lives while waiting for health and disability benefits. These men and women risk their bodies, sanity, and lives to defend Americans. Instead of receiving the support they deserve upon returning home, an unbelievable number of veterans are left on their own while the VA runs around like a chicken with its head cut off—losing paperwork, repeatedly requesting the same documents, and rewarding staffers for sending letters to veterans instead of processing disability and health claims.
The VA maintains that the average wait time for a veteran requesting health benefits is 273 days. However, according to internal VA documents gathered and reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), the average wait time for a veteran filing a first claim is between 316 and 327 days—two months longer than the VA statistic. Veterans filing their first claim in a major city wait, on average, twice as long: 642 days for veterans in New York, 619 in Los Angeles, and 542 days in Chicago. In fact, the number of veterans waiting more than one year for health/disability benefits has grown from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 by the end of 2012. This represents an astonishing 2,000 percent increase.
The shocking truth is that while the average wait time for veterans filing and receiving disability benefits decreased by more than one-third under President George W. Bush, the delays have doubled since President Obama took office. As reported by the CIR specifically, the number of veterans waiting more than one year for benefits in Los Angeles increased from 156 in 2009, to 14,000. “We tell veterans don’t shoot yourself, don’t shoot your wife, just stick with it and we’ll see what we can do while you wait two years for your benefits,” said former Vietnam War veteran and head of the National Veterans Foundation, Shad Meshad.
So often politicians exploit the stories of soldiers to paint themselves as true “Americans” and “patriots.” But now, back on American soil, veterans are abandoned by the same people who swore to defend them.
These are the signs of a failed system—one that lacks efficiency, organization, compassion, competence, and ends up hurting those it’s supposed to support. If there is any hope of reviving the VA benefits process, those in charge must be held accountable. This includes President Obama (who has promised a “revamping” of VA bureaucracy) and Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits. Supplying American veterans with the help and support they need ought to be of the highest priority. Sign below to demand an end to this unjustifiable neglect, and call upon President Obama and VA leaders to address the outrageous, and often tragic, delays veterans experience in obtaining benefits.
Dear President Obama, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey,
The number of American veterans waiting for disability compensation is currently 900,000—and this number will increase to more than one million by the end of March 2013. Without a serious overhaul of the VA system, this figure will continue to grow uncapped.
President Obama, as part of your candidacy you made specific promises to overhaul a “broken VA bureaucracy.” But as it stands now, the VA is a perfect picture of inefficiency and disorder, making it increasingly more difficult for veterans to receive the disability compensation that is owed to them.
The VA has spent four years and more than $537 million on transferring claims from paper to a new digital, computer system. Regardless, approximately 97 percent of veterans’ claims are still on paper. To compound this, the Department of Veteran Affairs is drastically understaffed; although public announcements by VA reps claim they have hired more than 3,000 new claims processors since 2010, fewer than 300 new staffers have been hired in reality.
Veterans face a host of obstacles upon returning home. Readjustment to civilian life is not an easy task, and it should be the policy of the VA to limit this difficulty as much as possible, not exponentially add to it.
Please make the changes necessary to limit the delay for veterans filing for disability compensation.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs