Imagine: you were a soldier sent abroad to fight for America. You were gravely injured, and the government promised they would help you with your medical bills. You come home. You can’t work, so you can’t earn an income. You apply to the Veterans Affairs for financial support, but you never hear back from them. So, you wait and you wait, and you’re ultimately left to fend for yourself while dealing with the injuries you sustained fighting for your country.
Unfortunately for American veterans, this hypothetical scenario is not really hypothetical. It’s real, and it’s all too common. The V.A. has an astounding backlog of over 800,000 benefit applications from veterans that have not yet been processed.
What’s more, the recent actions of the V.A. have done nothing to improve the agency’s tarnished image.
In November, the V.A. refused to answer Congress’s questions regarding the ongoing problem of veterans not receiving the benefits they applied for and deserve.
The Washington Examiner reported that in just 1 office in Atlanta, nearly 2,000 completed applications were gathering dust without being acted on.
These applications, along with tens of thousands of others, were left to sit because of a computer glitch that inadvertently required veterans to provide information about how much money they made. By law, veterans never have to provide financial information in order to receive benefits.
After the glitch had incorrectly rejected the applications, V.A. officials failed to tell veterans they had to reapply for benefits. Consequently, thousands of veterans who thought they were going to receive benefits never did.
Combat veterans have an automatic eligibility period of 5 years after returning home from service. After this window closes, though, the eligibility for benefits often closes, too. Many veterans that applied for benefits well within this 5-year period were denied support because the V.A. failed to recognize their applications year after year, and their eligibility period ended.
A Dysfunctional Bureaucratic Mess
The V.A.’s reputation has spiraled downwards in recent years as incident after incident has embarrassed the agency and revealed its shortcomings in providing care and support for our nation’s veterans.
Outrage erupted in the spring of 2014 when workers at over a hundred V.A. facilities were caught keeping secret medical waiting lists full of sick and injured veterans. By making the lists secret, the V.A bureaucrats avoided revealing their failure to process all the incoming applications, which would have ended their chances at receiving performance-related bonuses.
Only a small handful of employees were fired while the majority received no reprimand or punishment whatsoever.
Perhaps even more horrifying? In July of 2014, a report surfaced claiming that nearly one third of veterans waiting for enrollment in V.A. healthcare programs died before their applications could be verified.
After this debacle, Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) had some dark sarcasm to describe the V.A.’s problems:
"We've discovered the unexpected: something longer perhaps even than the list of excuses V.A. has made for failing our Veterans. Unfortunately, that is the apparent list of deceased veterans who never received the V.A. care they deserved.”
Last month, evidence came to light that V.A. officials throughout America were deliberately neglecting to instruct retiring veterans to include their discharge papers when applying for benefits. The absence of the discharge papers on applications allowed the V.A. bureaucrats to shift the blame for their massive backlog from themselves to the veterans.
Accusations also arose last month that top V.A. officials were taking advantage of the agency’s reassignment process to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the struggling organization.
At a congressional hearing investigating the claims, the top officials on trial invoked their right to the 5th Amendment and remained silent.
The 2 senior managers were not fired. They were also permitted to keep the money they had unethically taken from the V.A.
Letting Down Our Sick & Wounded Heroes
When the men and women of the armed forces go to serve America overseas, they expose themselves to a huge range of potential health hazards.
Besides being physically wounded in combat, service personnel risk going through extremely traumatic experiences that can result in psychological illnesses such as PTSD.
Furthermore, men and women who were in the military statistically have a much higher chance of being diagnosed with rare and deadly forms of cancer, including mesothelioma. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam have been shown to have a greater incidence rate of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, multiple myeloma, several respiratory cancers, and prostate cancer. There may also be a correlation between exposure to depleted uranium (used in the Gulf War and in Operation Iraqi Freedom) and a higher risk of cancer.
Veterans who served in the Navy particularly have an increased chance of getting mesothelioma, as many Navy ships used to be built with materials from asbestos-using companies.
In a letter to Congress in June, the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) said,
“Veterans across the country disproportionately make up those who are dying and afflicted with mesothelioma and other asbestos related illnesses and injuries. Although veterans represent only 8% of the nation’s population, they comprise 30% of all known mesothelioma deaths.”
Getting medical treatment for mesothelioma is an expensive and prolonged endeavor. Many veterans cannot afford the high medical fees all by themselves. By law, the government is supposed to help these men and women receive medical attention for the serious illnesses they induced as a result of their selfless patriotic service.
However, due to slowness at the V.A., veterans with mesothelioma and countless other health complications have to suffer while being ignored by their government.
The Time for Meaningful Change to the V.A. Is Now
Although the V.A. has been criticized as being full of corruption, it seems that the agency’s problems result from bureaucratic quagmires instead of explicitly immoral practices. Still, it is clear that the agency is in serious need of a major overhaul.
The V.A.’s perpetual failure to assist sick and dying veterans asking for help is a national disgrace. It is shameful that the men and women who went into harm’s way, for very little monetary recompense, receive such a lack of respect when they return home.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed similar sentiments in recent years, unanimously calling for major reform of the V.A.
The issue has also become a major hot topic in the presidential race, being touched on by most presidential candidates.
While campaigning in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton said that the V.A. is “failing to keep faith with our veterans,” and that “[its] problems are serious, systemic and unacceptable. They need to be fixed, they need to be fixed now.”
Donald Trump’s campaign website addresses the issue with the assertiveness his followers have come to expect:
“The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is absolutely unacceptable. Over 300,000 veterans died waiting for care. Corruption and incompetence were excused. Politicians in Washington have done too little too slowly to fix it. This situation can never happen again, and when Donald J. Trump is president, it will be fixed – fast.”
If Hillary and Trump and the widely different ideologies that they embody can see eye-to-eye on this issue, then it’s likely to be true: the V.A. needs to be demolished so that this lackluster agency can be rebuilt and veterans can start receiving the respect they deserve and the benefits they so desperately need.