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Lie, Delay and Deny Until They Die: How Veterans Are Treated by the VBA

Mark Rogers
7/24/14

This is the working mantra of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). After reading the latest report from the Office of the Inspector General, this is made blatantly clear. The mantra has long been rumor among veterans but, with all of the information coming from the series of joint committee hearings, it has proven to be a concrete truth. The report is titled "Veterans Benefits Administration: Review of the Special Initiative To Process Rating Claims Pending Over 2 Years" and is available here.

Veterans who have had their claims processed within the last decade should pay attention to the report. It describes an agency that moved claims out of pending status to inflate their numbers of claims completed by 12 percent. It reports that 32 percent, nearly a third of the claims the IG tracked, contained errors in rating the veteran's disability. There were an estimated 17,600 out of 56,500 claims, that is about 31 percent, inaccurately processed resulting in over $40 million dollars in incorrect payments.

Meanwhile, the VBA reports an over 90 percent accuracy in rating disability claims and has reduced the backlog by more than half. Here is how they were able to perform this magic trick. The VBA is clearing the backlog by denying claims turning the claim into an appeal, which is no longer counted as a pending claim. In their own words according to a Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs press release, the VBA "misrepresented the actual workload of pending claims and its progress toward eliminating the overall claims backlog". As a result, the appeals workload "has continued to grow at an alarming rate."

I can attest to this first hand. I am a veteran who has been in treatment for PTSD and depression for over a year. I had PTSD symptoms for years and denied it. I tried to tough it out, work it out, drink it out, sex it out to no avail. When I ran out of coping mechanisms, I finally went for help. They were very good about getting me assessed and treated as soon as the schedule allowed. They wanted me to take an aggressive treatment schedule that would have required three days a week at the clinic. I was working at the time and my employer was not open to having me out for 3 days a week. I filed my claim and waited. It took a year exactly for my claim to be denied on a lack of medical evidence. I didn't understand how the VBA could deny my claim for an injury that I was being treated for until I realized, my open claim was making the VBA look bad.

The claims process is Kafka's nightmare come to life. One side of the agency , the Veterans Health Administration, says I am injured probably as a result of service during the Persian Gulf War. The other side, the VBA, says that I am not injured and if I was, it was not the result of being in a war zone because we have no record of that but, you can appeal that decision. Thanks for your service. Now add in some mental health issues and now you know my hell.

What the VA has created is an industry that grinds along on the misery of injured veterans. I keep reminding myself that I am one of the lucky ones because they haven't killed me yet and I can still appeal. This system doesn't benefit the veteran at all. The system has been warped to benefit the bureaucrats who work within and along side of the VA only. This is how you get an agency that spends millions on a computer system that ends up using decades old technology and can't communicate with other agency's computers. It's the reason why people who can't seem to do the jobs they were hired for have stellar performance reviews and bonuses. It's why we get reports of VA facilities spending millions on office equipment, appliances and decorations but not a penny on feedback surveys from the veterans treated. This is how millions get spent on a national call center that handles fewer than calls a day.

The fault lies with a Congress that lacked oversight and denied funding, leaving the VA in a position to treat the veterans of the wars they approved without appropriate increases. The VA opened enrollment for veterans of my era but, at the same time, was still trying to correct the mistakes made with Vietnam era veterans. What is the point when 80 percent of Gulf War veterans' claims are denied outright? There are about 22 veterans a day who decide that suicide is better than being treated like this. Enough is enough.

On behalf of my fellow veterans, stop bullshitting us. Fix the VA, fix the claims process and stop short changing the people who answered when this country called.

Mark Rogers is a citizen of the Montaukett and Matinecock Nations located in Long Island, NY where he is known as Toyupahs Cuyahnu (Crazy Turtle). He has served as a grassroots activist in the African American and Native communities and is a proud veteran NCO of the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Corps. He is presently working on a writing career and seeks to aid fellow veterans through his writing. See his Facebook page Toyupahs Cuyahnu/Mark Rogers for more of his writing.

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m8lsem's picture
Mark Rogers' experience is all too typical. However, we must give the Devil his due. The Iraq and Afghanistan war(s) have given us over 2,000,000 new vets, somewhat like the crunch after Vietnam ... and Congress (thank you for nothing, dear House of Representatives) has failed to staff up VA accordingly. VA is not to be complemented for the way it met the crisis, with CYA excuses, but fault truly lies with the House of Representatives and its current majority. Congress should fund VA as cities and counties fund fire departments. When we go to the fire station and the crew is playing cards, we do not upset because we recognize that there's no fire at the moment. We know they spend time taking care of equipment and researching innovations. But they have to staff for the emergencies. Likewise VA is kept busy to an extent by the ongoing demand from wars past. However, VA has to also have facilities and personnel to deal with the crises of new conflicts.
m8lsem
swrussel's picture
Oh yes! Remind me to tell you about how I was getting dental treatment for a service connected injury from 1968 until 2010, when suddenly it was cut off because I "was not rated for my teeth." (I was rated for nerve damage in the same incident that lost my teeth.) This led to having to refile an ancient case that had already been determined back in 1968. So why did it take almost 2 years for the do-over? My only disagreement is your assertion that the system "has been warped to benefit the bureaucrats." I've talked to a lot of them, from paper pushers to BS artists. None of them are happy about the jam but, lacking the resources to shake it loose, they do the same kinds of things we sometimes had to do on active duty. (The statue of limitations has run on the time I had to check a truck out of the motor pool to steal supplies from a different squadron's warehouse because they were oversupplied what we were undersupplied and there was no other way to get the job done.) The bureaucrats have a job without regard to what happens to us. That is the limited sense in which our interests are not perfectly aligned...but they get no benefit from screwing us, but rather from hiding the fact that we are screwed. They would as soon be on the up and up, if allowed to be.
swrussel