IN TWEET: THE BACKLOG OF DISABILITY CLAIMS AT THE VA IS A DEBACLE THAT REQUIRES PRESIDENTIAL INTERVENTION NOW. OUR TAKE ON THE CRISIS AND WAYS YOU CAN HELP.
NOTE: THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO MY DAD, AN ALL AROUND COOL GUY AND A VETERAN. I GREW UP HEARING STORIES OF HIS DEALINGS WITH THE VA. I WISH I COULD SAY LESS-THAN-WONDERFUL EXPERIENCES LIKE HIS WERE A THING OF THE PAST. SADLY, WHERE THE VA IS CONCERNED, IT LOOKS LIKE WE'VE GONE FROM BAD TO MUCH WORSE.
Meet Allison Hickey , Undersecretary for Benefits for the Veterans Affairs Department. Her Aqua Net hair and frozen grin aside, this is one do-nothing bureaucrat with little to smile about. She presides over a backlog of disability claims from veterans that is staggering in size. If you were less than inspired by her appearance in front of a House panel last week, you’re not alone. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veteran’s Affair’s Committee, called for Hickey to resign. It’s probably the only time I’d be inclined to agree with him.
CLICK HERE FOR AN INFOGRAPHIC LOOK AT THE CLAIMS BACKLOG.
Of course, axing Hickey will do little if anything to solve the problem but, it would be a tiny moment of bloodless, off with their heads-like catharsis. Her stunningly inept testimony wasn’t enhanced much this week by her boss, U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. He popped up on the Sunday morning political chat circuit to crow about his “goal” of ending the backlog by 2015. Huh?!?
I’m no math wiz but I’m thinking if I’m an Iraq or Afghanistan War Vet missing, say, a limb or two that kind of “goal” really wouldn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. What the hell kind of response is a 2015 “goal” of ending the paperwork logjam when the shit pile is already more than a year deep? If this is the best we can do for the men and women we sent off to fight two wars, we are nation that should be profoundly ashamed of itself.
CLICK HERE FOR COLUMNIST JOE KLEIN’S SPOT-ON ASSESSMENT OF THE CRISIS.
Personally, I think Shinseki has been a major disappointment as the head of the VA. Given his personal history, this is a a guy who should have been all over this mess and prevented it from become a crisis. Instead, he has demonstrated a frustrating knack for not being present in the moment and appearing to ignore all the smoke that was billowing before the big fire . Remember, this claims backlog is not new nor is it something that just appeared, as if by magic, at Veterans Affairs offices around the country. Perhaps instead of reiterating the fact that the VA and the DOD seem incapable of playing in the same sandbox, Shinseki should have gotten off his butt and done something about it much sooner.
Only after allowing the backlog to explode into a first-class disaster, and only after Allison Hickey did such a piss-poor job during her testimony, did Shinseki finally stroll out from wherever he was hiding and start talking. Of course, after hearing his plans, he might as well have maintained radio silence. One thing is clear: it’s time for President Obama to take the reigns and make ending the VA backlog a top priority. Anyone with half a brain knows there is a problem here. Tough words and moral outrage are only as good as the authority behind them. Obama must fill the leadership gap here and turn talk into walk.
With all of the attention paid last week to the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, it would have been nice to see some of that spotlight given to the claims crisis. Those who duped us into war could have taken a small step towards an apology by hitting the airwaves and demanding action. Instead, they chose to take part in a campaign to re-write history. Major media outlets who enabled the march to war could have dedicated some above the fold space to this story. Instead, most chose to engage in self-loathing or blissfully ignorant hand-wringing. Leading progressives, who never miss an opportunity to bitch about the Iraq War, could have been equally outraged about the present-day crisis. Instead, most chose the path of least resistance by engaging in another round of self-congratulatory preaching to the anti-Bush choir.
CLICK HERE TO EXPERIENCE THE BACKLOG FROM ONE VET'S PERSPECTIVE
I’m not saying it was a bad thing to call out Donald Rumsfeld for Tweeting lies or for any media outlet to take a critical look at the lead up to Iraq War but, it is profoundly troubling that we spent a ton of time looking back without dedicating equal time to where things stand right now. That inability to focus on the present while learning from the past is how we get pushed into wars based on lies. It’s also how situations like the claims backlog at the VA are allowed to fester and become living nightmares. That things like this happen over and over again isn’t anyone’s fault but our own. We can point fingers all we want but, if we don’t at least admit we are all part of a problem then we are never going to find a solution.
Fortunately, at least where the VA claims crisis is concerned, each of us can help. There are some simple steps we can all take that, collectively, will help move things forward. It took me less than 15 minutes today to complete the top three items on this list. It’s certainly the least any of us can do for the brave men and women who chose to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those veterans of past wars who are still fighting for basic disability support.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- CLICK HERE to visit the IAVA website and sign the online petition to demand that President Obama step in and take charge of the claims backlog solution. Share the petition with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers after you sign. Adding a personal message to these shares is also helpful.
- Call both of your Senators and your Representative and demand similar action (that’s a total of three calls, folks). Let them know you are a constituent who feels that 2015 is too long to wait for an end to the current disability claims backlog. Calling your elected officials has a much bigger impact than emails or other auto-response options. Always be clear, courteous and concise when speaking with staff members who answer phones in the offices of elected officials. CLICK HERE to find your Senators and their contact numbers. CLICK HERE to find your Representative in Congress and their contact numbers.
- Call the White House and express your support for our veterans and ask that President Obama step in to end the claims backlog at the VA. Again, always be polite to whomever answers the phone. Let them know your are aware of the statements that have been made by Undersecretary Hickey and Secretary Shinseki and are not satisfied with their responses. Leading veterans support organizations are calling for President Obama to intervene and you support that call to action. Extra points for sending a hand written letter. CLICK HERE for the White House contact information.
- Share this post and the call to action list with at least one friend who isn’t a RONTHINK reader, especially those who might be unaware of this issue.
I will continue to post key updates on the VA claims backlog crisis (here and on Twitter). If you’re still sitting on the fence, check out this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show. She has been a tireless voice of support for all veterans and this piece from her show last week definitely lit a fire under me.