When I mustered out of the Marine Corps in 1973, one of the first things I did was contact the Veterans Administration to get the ball rolling on the G.I. Bill payments I planned to apply toward my college tuition. Several other veterans at the university I was attending gave me some good advice. Paraphrased, it went like this: If you ever get the G.I. Bill payments flowing, don’t do anything to interrupt them. It will take forever to get them started again. In fact, you will probably graduate first. Based on the stories I heard from other veterans this was good advice and I—wisely as it turned out—followed it to the letter. As a result, I was able to get through college without any major run-ins with the VA.
My only encounter to date with the VA went reasonably well. However, as I have seen many times since my college days, other veterans are not so lucky. In fact, every time another horror story about the VA makes the news I am thankful that relying on this slow-moving, inefficient federal bureaucracy has not been a necessity for me, particularly in the area of a service-related disability. As I write this column, the VA is as much as two years behind in processing the claims of some veterans who desperately need help. In fact, there are veterans in this country dying before their paperwork is processed by the VA.
In an excellent article for TOWNHALL, Darnin Selnick, an Air Force veteran and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, revealed that according to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), just in the area of disability benefits there are more than 790,000 veterans waiting for their claims to be processed and the average waiting time is 332 days. Actually, 332 days is fast for the VA. The application packages of approximately one-quarter of a million veterans have been back logged for more than a year, and in some cases veterans have been waiting as much as two years.
In his column for TOWNHALL, Darin Selnick summarized the situation as follows: “…the reality is that for too many veterans, experiences with the VA are anything but positive. They describe a process marked by rigid bureaucracy, poor communication, sluggish performance and in endless cases, unresponsive claims personnel who seem to have little investment in providing veterans with a high level of service.” It is hard to imagine federal bureaucrats so jaded, crass, and uncaring that they would treat so poorly men and women who have served their country so well. Unfortunately, the uncaring attitudes of too many VA representatives have been well documented.
In May of this year, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) surveyed 500 veterans to get a feel for the quality of the VA’s services and the responsiveness of the organization’s personnel. Feedback from veterans was not encouraging. It frequently included such descriptive terms as “slow,” “frustrating,” “uncaring,” and “pitiful.” (see concernedveterans for America.org). The federal government—that is to say big government—is inefficient by definition. This is bad enough, but to be viewed as uncaring when the constituency the government agency is supposed serve consists of men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country and returned home disabled is unconscionable.
Darin Selnick, with the informed view of an insider, recommends several administrative and policy changes the VA should take to correct this reprehensible situation: 1) Hold VA administrators and employees accountable for their attitudes and performance, 2) Set priorities so that service-related disabilities are processed before non-service related claims, and 3) Recruit administrative leaders from the private sector who know how to make customer service the VA’s number one priority and train all employees in customer service excellence. If ever there was a customer who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect, it is the American veteran.
I agree with Selnick’s policy change recommendations, but would add three more. First, any VA employee who has a documented pattern of poor customer service should be sent to serve in Afghanistan along with his or her supervisor. Second, put a new administrator in charge of the VA and enable and empower that individual to do whatever is necessary to turn things around. If attitudes and efficiency at the VA do not change for the better within six-months, send the administrator to Afghanistan. Finally, when those VA personnel return from Afghanistan—if they return—make them stand in line at the most inefficient, uncaring VA processing center in America to get their claims processed.