When you go to any government entity and request their services (which, incidentally, you pay for), are you ever taken aback at the ennui and lack of desire to be helpful? I certainly don’t write this to imply anything about anyone but I am constantly stupefied at the litany of excuses trotted out in response to a genuine “How come you don’t do it this way?” The amount of research time and dollars expended to prove it is infeasible is often more excessive that compliance in most cases.
Once again, the go-to, signature Agency entrusted with He Who Shall Have Borne The Battle is once again bemoaning the idea of accountability. Let’s delve deeper.
Historically, the VA, even in all it’s prior iterations, was always a cush, backwater government job with little heavy lifting and a massive medical mission. Every once in a while a war would come along and there would be a lump in the compensation python. With advances in medical science, people started living longer. Surprisingly, Vets eagerly followed suit. With each succeeding war, the odds of survival went up due to new innovations in medicine as well as warfare. Enter the Huey.
Vietnam was the first war where you could be in Tachikawa AB hospital over in Japan less than 6 hours after losing your legs (and many of your buddies) to a bouncing Betty. The miracle of medicine also guaranteed you could be fitted with a colostomy bag and live to a ripe old age as well. Vets like this didn’t need a lot of evidence to win their claims but life in the service lane is never that simple. Due to sloppy record keeping, the military’s records were pretty spotty until the 80s. Absent medical proof of what you were claiming was anathema to your claim, unless you could wave your Purple Heart or Bronze Star and get a 38 USC 1154(b) Combat “enhancement” that gave your lay testimony the semblance of the truth. Many is the Vet who lost any hope of remuneration due to this brain fart in adjudication logic. Perhaps worse was the July 13th, 1973 records bonfire at the sprinkler-challenged NPRS records warehouse in St. Louis. In some strange Back To The Future scenario, Veterans from the 80’s are discovering that their records, too, were somehow burned up in that fateful 1973 conflagration. VA has yet to reveal how they do this prestidigitation but one day it will come out. Rumor has it they bought a souped up DeLorean with a hyperdrive motivator.
The VA metamorphosed again in 1961 with the inception of the modern Board of Appeals. Even so, the cabal of judges were at the beck and call of the VA Grand Poobah (our future Secretary). This was an arm of the military run out of Fort Fumble until 1988 and the inauguration of the modern day Department of Vet Affairs. All this time, the VA honchos had been pretty much left to their own devices.
Enter Senator Alan Cranston. I suspect the VA had shortchanged some of the Senator’s friends and fellow Veterans back in California. Cranston was an enlisted man in WW2 and was staunchly pro Vet. When debate began on a revised Veterans administration with full cabinet status in 1988 (the inception of the VJRA), Cranston was very critical of the VA. He felt they were finally dragging the VA out of some dark corner and finally getting a good look at a nasty problem. He was right.
Ever since then the tenor of the argument has remained at this high level of animosity. The VA Secretary feels he is being put upon if they so much as have to adjudicate a Veteran’s claim in less than three years-with a computer no less. Towards meeting that mandate and entering the paperless world, numerous computer programs, .pdfs and electrons have been engaged in the project of putting the VA Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Now the good Congressmen are actually requesting that VA be honest up front on claims and tell Veterans when they can expect to get a decision. Whoa. Hold the phone Congressman Miller! On top of that injustice, they are asking VA to prognosticate as to what the odds are of the Veteran actually winning this claim based on statistical data that VA currently possesses. As usual, the problem is far more complex than mere mortal, non-VA personnel lower than a GS-95 can absorb. Thus it behooves Congress to butt out. This is VA Rocket Science we’re talking about.
Here’s what the bill (S.1148) entails:
1) would require the VA to post information about the average processing times for disability claims
2) post processing times based on various formats in which a claim can be submitted
3) monitor and keep transparent the backlog of claims,
4) would establish within the VA a commission or task force to evaluate the backlog of veterans’ disability claims,
5) the same VA commission or task force would also evaluate the backlog of veterans’ disability claims, including the current process used to evaluate claims and appeals, the applicable laws and regulations and the appeals process.
6) the task force would also analyze possible improvements to the claims process and submit to the VA remedies and solutions for the backlog.
VA fall guy and designated Apologist-Queen-For-A-Day Robert Jesse rebutted the wish list by bringing the true reality of the problem into focus. His observations were not filled with Rainbows and Unicorns. Here’s his take:
1) the VA thinks collecting and posting all of that information would be burdensome
2) the VA thinks collecting and posting all of that information would actually slow down processing.
3) the requirement that VA provide certain information to each claimant would require VA to revise a number of forms
4) The complexity of the data concerns VA
5) Some of the metrics outlined in the bill are not currently available in VA systems
6) VA generally does not routinely track grant rates for particular types of claims
7) VA generally does not routinely track whether claims are submitted in standard or non-standard paper form
8) the data could confuse claimants
9) Providing this type of information could be seen as directing claimants to file, or not file, certain types of claims
10) Providing this type of information could be seen as directing claimants to elect to use a particular type of representative
11) the data provided may not be the best indicator of the most appropriate course of action for the particular claimant
So, in a period of less than 90 minutes, Guru and soothsayer/prognosticator emeritus Samuel Jesse has identified eleven excellent reasons why this won’t work and that it will just confuse Vets further. Actually, I didn’t think confusing Vets further was attainable as it has been considered a done deal for centuries. It also sounds like a typical government response to a logical “What if?” to me. The major problem I see is in red above. Good Lord. Haven’t we learned anything in over 200 years of government? You never form a commission or task force to investigate a problem from within the organization you hope to repair. That’s Independent Investigation 101. Look at VA’s Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Seek out no Evil, and pretend you didn’t hear any Evil and give a good whitewash to any Evil discovered Office of Inspector General as an example of why that is inadvisable. If you don’t work for the VA and have done something wrong, your ass is grass. On the opposing hand, if you are an offending VHA employee, you will be counseled on how to avoid killing your patients in the future or (VBA) rewarded with a promotion, bonus and transferred to the Manchester RO.
Congress is naive if they think they can pass some high-handed law and effect change at the VA (again). The agency is intractable and staffed with hidebound lifers who refuse to budge even when the Ricster orders it. If you guys and gals think the Obamacare website has a few glitches, you need to view the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) computer first hand. You almost can’t find it hidden behind all the bandaids and gauze. Hell, some of the VAROs have individualized patches in an attempt to keep them from crashing. Rumor has it that it is up and running in 18 VAROs presently on any given day with a slower speed than dial up. In order to maintain a reduction in claims, they are holding off introducing it into the larger VAROs in Oakland, St. Pete’s and Seattle. As for Waco and Winston-Salem? The forecast is still iffy. Very iffy. Like 2016 iffy. Much like the Healthcare.gov site, it wasn’t designed to handle more than 6 VAROs at one time. They’re working on it.
Meanwhile, the VA and the DoD are still in discussions on how to mate the DoD’s shiny new hyperspeed STRs computer to the VA’s pedantic, hopelessly outdated 1995 VISTA system. I’d pass a kidney stone to be a fly on the wall in that office.