Note: Guest blogger Kyle Buckley, an NCPA research associate, discusses the war zone that is the Veterans Administration.
Over the last year there have been a number of congressional inquiries into the reasons for a growing disability claims backlog at the Veterans Administration. The VA has failed to comply with requests for information, outright misled lawmakers, and is now facing congressional inquiries for their history of funny accounting. The NCPA’s new report chronicles these and other misadventures of the Veterans Benefits Administration.
The VBA has about 860,000 claims currently pending, nearly 70 percent (582,000) are considered backlogged. A variety of excuses have been made by the Veterans Administration for backlog increases, such as:
- Additional presumptive disabilities associated with Agent Orange exposure,
- New regulations for processing certain claims related to Gulf War service, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder;
- Ten years of war with increased survival rates;
- Successful extensive use of outreach programs encouraging more veterans to submit claims;
Unfortunately, none of them induces a great deal of sympathy.
When we remove claims pending from Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, to whom the VA has still not met its obligations, only 20 percent (172,000) of the claims awaiting decisions belong to vets from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The numbers of post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury claims are growing at a much slower rate than other injuries. Survivability rates are a contested subject, and the VA does not even bother to track the number of separating soldiers who have been educated on their benefits.
Overall, the VA is far short of its 2015 performance goals, so what have they done?
They have simply decided to lower the bar. Required mental health visits for soldiers suffering from PTSD have been cut by 50 percent. Soldiers evaluated for the severity of their symptoms (used for benefits adjustments, as some symptoms manifest themselves over time) are not tracked. All told, the numbers of backlogged claims are up, accuracy rates are down, and efficiency thresholds have more holes than the Iraqi navy.
When comparing Social Security and VA disability processing systems, Social Security Disability is leaps and bounds more efficient than the institution we have saddled our veterans with. Why? Social Security and VA disability claims processing have one truly significant difference; the influence of associated voting blocks.
No doubt, the VA has some substantial political weight. No one in Washington wants to appear like they don’t support veterans. Why, Nancy Pelosi supports them so much that even though the veteran population in San Francisco is in the bottom quartile, her district receives nearly 25 percent more VA funding than any other congressional district in California!
This is not to say that the VA hasn’t made improvements. Veteran homelessness has significantly fallen, vocational rehabilitation programs have spectacular success rates, and VA home loans have lower than average default rates.
But, as we all head over the fiscal cliff, remember this: Veterans deserve our support, the Veterans Administration does not.