It has been two years since the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal broke in April 2014, and what restructuring and reform has taken place? Almost nothing has changed, writes Pete Hegseth, an Army veteran. “VA officials have kept their jobs, and veterans continue to be treated like second-class citizens inside their own system. But after two years of committee hearings, two years of investigations, and two years of funding increases for the VA, how bad could it really still be?”
Today health-care wait times for veterans remain unacceptably high; in fact, they have gone up in many places. Whistleblowers continue to say that records of VA wait times are still being manipulated across the country, with the VA’s own inspector general recently finding that over half of VA medical facilities investigated still use “improper scheduling.” On the benefits side, while the number of backlogged disability claims has come down, the wait for first-time applicants remains, on average, 389 days; it’s over 770 days in Baltimore and 630 days in Boston. Meanwhile, the backlog for appealed claims has skyrocketed to over 255,000 — and most of the veterans on that list have been waiting upwards of three years.
But don’t veterans now have health-care choice? No, they do not. Good legislation was passed in 2014: the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which gives veterans a temporary “choice card.” But the choice cards veterans actually receive are barely worth the cardstock they are printed on. Because of congressional restrictions and sheer VA bureaucratic obstinacy, use of the so-called choice card is extremely cumbersome and time consuming, leaving millions of veterans with a card, but still no timely or convenient choice. Worse, thanks to delays in VA payments, veterans who use the card are often stuck with big medical bills.
The sad reality is that the VA is no more functional today than it was in 2014, writes Mr. Hegseth. “This tragic stasis comes despite the fact that the VA has the second-largest budget in the federal government ($160-plus billion) and a workforce twice the size of the Marine Corps (340,000-plus employees).” Read more here.