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EDITORIAL: We owe veterans a better VA

2011-06-12T00:15:00Z EDITORIAL: We owe veterans a better VA Glens Falls Post-Star
June 12, 2011 12:15 am

They put their lives on the line for us.

They risk physical injury and psychological damage, all in the service of our nation. In service of us.

We owe them. We owe them our thanks. And we owe them proper care once their time of service has ended.

So why, when they come home damaged and broken, do we make life so difficult for them?

A series of articles by Will Doolittle last week spotlighted the problem of one Vietnam War veteran who was denied full benefits from damage caused by Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant and herbicide used to clear the Asian jungles. As a result of unexpected changes in policy by the Veterans Administration regarding his eligibility for benefits, the man and his wife are facing desperate financial hardship and frightening uncertainty over their ability to treat his serious health issues.

Sadly, his is not a unique story.

Several other individuals came forward with their own VA horror stories after the articles were published, indicating that the problems affect many local veterans in addition to thousands and thousands of veterans nationwide.

Veterans are twice victimized - once by their service in war, then again by their treatment at home.

There are about 25 million veterans alive today, about 25 percent of whom receive benefits from the Veterans Administration. Victims of earlier wars came home sick from herbicides, having lost limbs or suffering from other undiagnosed mental issues. Today's vets are just as likely to return with post-traumatic stress syndrome and non-visible injuries such as concussions and other mental issues.

The series identified numerous problems in the Veterans Administration. It illustrated decision-making on policy or benefit awards that literally can change by the hour. It found the VA using the excuse of "every case is unique" to justify providing one benefit to one person and a completely different benefit to another. Representatives of veterans tell stories of soldiers being forced to complete dozens of pages of applications, of having to go through multiple agencies to obtain verification of their injuries, of having to wait years - often longer than the length of their service - to receive the benefits to which they're entitled. Veterans who appeal denial of their benefits often must incur significant legal expenses and wait inordinate periods of time to receive decisions that often don't go their way.

Some veterans feel that they're being victimized by cost-cutting measures, with some going so far as to assert that the VA would be happier if they'd died in battle so it wouldn't have to award benefits. A recent federal court decision echoed those concerns.

A strongly worded ruling in May by the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit on a lawsuit filed by two non-profit veterans groups outlined a host of problems that could have been prevented had Congress and the Veterans Administration been willing to address them.

"The VA's unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough," the court wrote in its 104-page decision. "No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations."

Many efforts have been made over the years to reform the Veterans Administration, including expanding the use of computer technology, increasing veterans educational benefits, and streamlining the process for obtaining benefits.

But as far as providing a consistent, fair, efficient process for administering and providing benefits that allows due process for appeals, the reforms have fallen woefully short.

Reforming the VA won't be easy, if for no other reason than because the bureaucracy is as thick and tangled as those Asian jungles. One petition offered to President Bush in 2008 listed nearly a dozen necessary reforms.

Among them were the timely and fair adjudication of veterans' claims for compensation, legal representation at all stages of the veterans claims process, the adoption of time limits and right to counsel policies that are currently in use by the Social Security Administration for appeals, an end to the practice of "blanket denial" of administrative tort claims, the creation of oversight committees, greater control over medical professionals and greater transparency in the process.

It's not too much for our veterans to ask that they have fair and timely access to care for their physical and psychological injuries. It's something we would demand for ourselves. Why not for the people who serve and protect us on the front lines of the military?

Our representatives in Congress need to do more than just give this problem the usual lip service.

Nothing short of a major overhaul of the system will be enough.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant.

 

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. TJ8
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    TJ8 - June 16, 2011 10:48 am
    It's good to know the Glens Falls area has other jarheads to lend their opinion to this VA riddle. After coming out of the otherside of Marine combat with my limps/soul intact - it's hard for me to relate to the folks whose blank check was actually cashed. So many of us 03 types do their combat deployments - give full effort - and just don't get hit. We come out clean without need for any type of assistance or compensation. Every Marine writes a blank check to the US military which says "I promise to give everything of myself up-to-and-including my life to serve the USMC." But most checks just don't get cashed. So we look at veterans who were negatively affected - can't function normally - and think "Poor guy - that COULD have been me - but it wasn't me." Guys like me who rolled the dice and didn't lose - we see the reliable income we received while in active duty (as well as the well-earned respect) as the only reward that was due to us. We would've been unemployed otherwise.
  2. quillerm
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    quillerm - June 14, 2011 7:03 pm
    I complained about the medical treatment my son was getting in Europe after being wounded in Afghanistan. No response. This is the second time I wrote him about Veteran issues but he either has a staffing problem or no time to respond.
  3. boston
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    boston - June 14, 2011 9:19 am
    vonrick, do something? Like I was one of the charter members of the Spina Bifida Assc. which helped win the lawsuit against the government to get financial help for the vets and their children. Do something like for over 30 years have been personally involved with trying to help end the red tape and stupid "policies". This is exactly the the venue to "bitch", just like the original article, to bring to the attention of the public the crap the average vet has to go through to get help. Sstranahan made a great point, if we were unionized, every thing would be taken care of with no problem. Gibson is my man in Washington where these issues are addressed, and the locals always refer to him as they say they can do anything on the local level to change federal laws as you should know. I've passed out hundres of copies of the DVD by Ret.Army Nurse, Joyce Riley about Agent Orange and depleted uranium so I guess you can say I've been talking to people and just how many times do I have to ask?
  4. vonrick
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    vonrick - June 13, 2011 11:46 am
    Then go and do it elsewhere, knock on doors, print and mail mini newsletters, join and be active in the VFW, American Legion, DAV or the Marine Corps Legue if you're eligable.
    Talk is cheap, and that is all that most people do sad to say.
    You say you are waiting for Mr. Gibson to get back to you, but what are you doing while you wait? If you waited more than a week then it's time you asked again and again.
    Gibson isn't the only politicion in the U.S. Town and city leaders have the right to ask questions on behalf of thier constituants and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Enough pressure and things will start to happen- it always does, elected officials will react if enough pressure is exerted.
  5. vonrick
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    vonrick - June 13, 2011 11:31 am
    Boston- You are very wrong, I'm a Marine vet of 22 years, I have cancer and I'm being treated at the VA. Very well I might add. It wasn't always that way for me, I had to get loud and in thier faces and even had a reporter talk to the Administrator in the Albany VA. Things can be changed but NOT by bitchin' about it here. Get a bunch of wronged Vets together and picket, but get your stuff together first so you can answere the questions properly.
  6. boston
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    boston - June 13, 2011 8:23 am
    vonrick, you're right. Personally contact Gibson like I did and talked directly to him and when that doesn't work, use blogs and forums to let the rest of the folks know he's not responding to a vets concern about Agent Orange BS from the VA. Is there something more I can do besides personanly talking to Mr. Gibson like I did and called to set up an appointment which he said to do but he never did? Let me know.
    I'd have to guess you're not a vet or maybe one who's never needed the help of the VA which I hope is the case.
  7. GFarry
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    GFarry - June 12, 2011 8:19 pm
    SOme really great comments here. The VA system is a staggering behemoth of a riddle..many vets abandon trying to obtain benefits simply because the process is so very intimidating. I've served as a Marine in Haiti, Cuba, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan (currently deployed with II MEF now)...and the health risks are very real. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the pilss we are told to take, the numerous shots we receive pre-deployment/post-deployment...PLUS the chance of a being hurt in combat, all combine to increase the odds of health issue later in life. And sstranahan has it right; we don't have a union...there is no collective bargaining for us.
  8. vonrick
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    vonrick - June 12, 2011 3:41 pm
    Political people only say what they think we want to hear and only do what they are under the most pressure to do. Write (e-mail) your represenatives and get loud and in thier faces.
    DO SOMETHING besides talking on forums and gossip columns!
  9. boston
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    boston - June 12, 2011 12:26 pm
    Still waiting for Mr. Gibson to get back with me as promised about Agent Orange policy bs. When Chris, you promised three months ago? Does the average citizen know what bs us vets REALLY have to go through or are the PR stunts supossed to keep them unsuspecting? And now the deniel of depleted uranium on the troops and deniel again. If I knowingly caused physical damage to someone I'd be sued and possibly face jail time. That's exactly what you chemical company lobby money loving parasites need to face also. You're no better that the average citizen even if you think you're a politicain above thew law.
  10. sstranahan
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    sstranahan - June 12, 2011 12:19 pm
    Why is it that the veterans who fought these wars for the freedom of others can't receive the same benefits as School teachers,political appointees,or state workers? Why must they fight for basic human rights when they return?Is it simply because they don't belong to a Union, or weren't we considered government employees?

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