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March 27, 2013

UPDATE: VA CLAIMS BACKLOG

Tommy Sowers was sworn in at the VA this past summer. CLICK HERE for the full story from Veterans Today.
IN TWEET: NEW VA ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOMMY SOWERS FACES THE MUSIC (AKA RACHEL MADDOW) AND ANSWERS SOME TOUGH QUESTIONS ABOUT THE DISABILITY CLAIMS BACKLOG.

Yesterday I wrote extensively about the train wreck currently hobbling the Veterans Administration. Men and women returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan (along with Vietnam Veterans trying to file Agent Orange-related claims) are waiting a year or more in some cases before the VA makes a decision on their case. Up until last night, most of the little we have heard from the Veterans Administration has come from poorly received public testimony and a single appearance by Erik Shinseki on CNN this past weekend. We now have a new voice to add to the mix, thanks to the dogged persistence of Rachel Maddow.

Tommy Sowers, new to the VA, sat down with Rachel Maddow last night for a a tough round of Q&A. I have to say, the guy does seem sincere. He’s a vet himself and the 2010 Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in Missouri's 8th congressional district. He started the interview sounding a little too sunshine and roses for Maddow’s comfort but, as always, she was tough and asked the right questions. Once it was clear that she was not looking for his head to be delivered on a platter, things loosened up and Sowers was remarkably forthright.

Sowers does have a tough job ahead of him and his ability to impact change is only as good as the commitment to change from those running things at the VA. Is he giving vets genuine hope or is he just an empty suit making hollow promises? As the opening of the interview with Maddow reminds us, the VA has a shameful track record of making lofty commitments that they have yet to deliver on. As they say, talk is cheap. I want to have some faith in the promises made by Sowers but, as it stands, only time will tell.

There is no question this is a major crisis (when you hear the stats regarding the percentage of claims still on paper, you’ll see why) and I reiterate the call for President Obama to step in and take a leadership role here. With that said, Sowers ended the interview promising to give Maddow unfettered access to one of the VA claims processing centers that apparently has gone from disaster to model of efficiency. That handshake agreement was pretty amazing to see and I, for one, can’t wait for the visit on a future show.

Here is the Sowers interview from THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW last night:


As a reminder, the IAVA and other leading advocacy groups are calling for President Obama to step in and make ending the claims backlog a national priority. RONTHINK added its voice to that call yesterday and I reiterate the need for Presidential leadership. If you have not done so, please lend your voice to the cause.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Follow @ronthinkblog and @iava on Twitter for regular updates on this issue. Re-Tweet relevant content with #endthevabacklog.

  5. 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.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW airs Monday through Friday at 9pm E/P on MSNBC.

CLICK for free download of last night's episode of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW from iTunes.