From the administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, to the Internal Revenue Service harassment of conservative organizations, to the Justice Department's snooping on the news media, to the NSA's electronic monitoring of phone calls and e-mails, there has been no lack of scandals flowing from the nation's capital this year.
But the biggest scandal of all can be found at the Veterans Administration where an average of 53 men and women who have served this nation die each day waiting for bureaucrats to process the benefits they have earned. The backlog at the VA now numbers more than 851,000 cases. Worse, the backlog is growing rather than shrinking.
And it is not just an inflow of claims from those who have served in America's most recent wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan that has caused the backlog. Veterans who served in Vietnam and who are now showing symptoms from the defoliant Agent Orange also find their benefits clogged in the government pipeline. The current backlog was triggered by a move designed to help more veterans. The VA relaxed the rules governing who could apply for benefits for health problems arising from exposure to Agent Orange, or those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also known as PTSD.
The problem is while anticipating a flood of new claims, the VA inexplicably failed to put into place the administrative systems and the technology needed to handle the larger caseload. As a result, the time frame for processing a claim has grown from an average of 125 days in 2009 to nearly a full year — 331 days. And the problem isn't money. The budget for the Veteran's Administration has grown by over 40% and congress has offered more funding to speed up the process. The VA is one agency that has been spared budget cuts under sequestration.
The problem, pure and simple, is administrative incompetence. Captain Darin Selnick, USAF (Retired) was a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for eight years. He is now on the organizing committee of Concerned Veterans for America. The group is fighting to put pressure on the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis at the VA.
Selnick is blunt when talking about how to solve the problem recently telling American Radio Journal: "In the military if you don't take the hill you find the right person who will take the hill." He says there are middle and upper level managers who failed to prepare for the increase in claims, and who have been unable to deal with the meltdown that ensued. Selnick believes the problem rises all the way to the top, where retired General Eric Shinseki, who serves as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs has likewise failed to come to grips with the problems plaguing his department.
While Washington bureaucrats stumble about, the lengthy delay in processing claims has had a day-to-day impact on the lives of America's war veterans. For some the waiting game has prevented them from getting much needed health care. Others await approval of benefits to further their educations. And some families face further emotional upheaval awaiting burial benefits. As a result of the delays, thousands of veterans are dying and others have faced added stress resulting in high unemployment rates, and surging homelessness.
As America prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the declaration of its independence on July 4, 1776 it is time to reflect on the fact that each generation has sent our sons and daughters to fight to preserve, protect and defend that most precious of commodities — freedom. Today's veteran's answered the call to protect our liberty, and now our government is failing them in their time of need.
This past spring, Concerned Veterans for America called upon President Obama to take swift action to deal with the problems at the Veterans Administration, including the dismissal of Secretary Shinseki from his post. Months later the problems persist with no signs of progress. The present leadership at the Veterans Administration has failed to "take the hill." That such "leadership" remains in place — and America's veterans are suffering and dying because of it — is the Obama Administration's biggest scandal of all.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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