Continuing the strong support of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in meeting the needs of returning combat veterans, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson announced the Department is immediately hiring 100 new patient advocates to help severely injured veterans and their families navigate VA's systems for health care and financial benefits.
Heckuva' job Jimmy! 100 new patient advocates...what about the 600,000 thousand claims still waiting to be processed. I thought it would be something like 1,000 to start with helping the Veterans. 100 patient advocates is going to expedite how many more claims per day? Not even as fast as the wounded return! It really boggles the mind, talk about a drop in the ocean!
President Bush has created a special, inter-agency task force under the leadership of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson to thoroughly examine and cut through red tape affecting the latest generation of combat veterans seeking services and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or any other federal agency.
"No task is more important to me personally or to the men and women of the Department of Veterans Affairs than ensuring our heroes receive the best possible care and services," Nicholson said. "This task force will identify ways to cut red tape and ease the transition back home for our combat troops, especially our wounded heroes. They deserve less hassle and more action from their government, and that will continue to be our focus."
Under the terms of the executive order creating the task force, the group has 45 days to: "Identify and examine existing federal services that currently are provided to returning Global War on Terror service members;"
"Identify existing gaps in such services;"
"Seek recommendations from appropriate federal agencies on ways to fill those gaps; and "Ensure that appropriate federal agencies are communicating and cooperating effectively."
Why is it that Nicholson's words ring hollow to me...? That's right, he's a liar and a miscreant, in other words, a bu$h lackey!
A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties. As a result, seriously wounded veterans continued to face long delays for health care and benefit payments after being discharged from the military, says former VA program manager Paul Sullivan.
The program, called the Contingency Tracking System, had been approved by Nicholson's predecessor but died once Nicholson took over the VA, Sullivan told ABC News. Sullivan said he was told the cost of the system -- less than $1 million to build and requiring a handful of staff to maintain -- was prohibitive.
When asked about the Contingency Tracking System at the White House Wednesday, Nicholson told ABC News, "I'm not sure I know what program you're referring to." He added that "when the VA gets patients...we instantly create an electronic medical record for them."
In testimony before Congress today, a VA official confirmed that its current tracking system still depends on paper files and lacks the ability to download Department of Defense records into its computers, a key flaw originally identified as leading to veterans getting lost between the cracks.
Throughout 2004, the new program sat on a shelf while returning veterans struggling with serious brain injuries, psychological trauma, paralysis or worse spent weeks and months fighting the VA bureaucracy to receive the benefits they deserved after being discharged from the armed services, veterans advocates say. "In that gap...people find themselves not being able to pay for their car, their mortgage, they may have marital problems because they can't pay their bills," said Steve Robinson, director of veterans' affairs for the advocacy group Veterans for America. "You find suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence."
Yesterday, President Bush put VA Secretary Nicholson in charge of an interagency task force to determine what can be done to deliver benefits and health care now to thousands of wounded vets who have struggled to receive care.
The announcement came almost exactly two years after Nicholson had received the newly designed system, itself the result of an internal VA task force studying how to make sure wounded soldiers were "seamlessly" transitioned from military service to veteran status with the care and benefits they'd earned.
Despite Nicholson's apparently cool reception to the inexpensive solution, othersthought the system had merit. "It was a great idea," said Cynthia A. Bascetta, a congressional expert on veterans' health care who was briefed on the project just prior to its completion. After the briefing, she said, she didn't hear any more about it. Newspaper exposes in 2004 prompted former VA Secretary Principi to come up with a plan to fix the problem of wounded vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and not receiving timely care and benefits.
"You read a story about someone who was caught in between and I said, 'Wait a minute. We have to do better than that,'" Principi, now a lobbyist for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, told ABC News.
Sullivan and his team designed the "Contingency Tracking System" (CTS), a secure online database that would capture Department of Defense data on soldiers wounded on the battlefield and track their status through their medical care and treatment at both Defense and VA facilities.
To keep costs down, he said, he cadged computer hardware from other offices which weren't using theirs.
CTS would record each vet's diagnosis and help VA staff make sure he or she received all of the dozens of benefits they might qualify for as soon as possible, from rehabilitative care to disability payments, vocational training and more.
"Before the CTS, VA had no nationwide system for tracking casualties from the battlefield," Sullivan said. Instead, the department relied on a haphazard system of casualty records manually kept on spreadsheets at several locations, which sometimes did not match up with Defense Department casualty records. That process hampered vets' timely access to medical care and other benefits after discharge, Sullivan said. Sullivan left the VA in March 2006; he is now an advocate for improving care for veterans. He reacted with dismay at yesterday's announcement that Nicholson would be leading the new effort to make surewounded veterans get the care and benefits they deserve. "I don't think it's a good idea for the people responsible for the problem to be in charge of fixing it," he told ABC News.
In a written response to ABC News, the VA said a new tracking system "very near deployment" would allow them to track casualties soon after they left the battlefield, much the way CTS was designed to do in 2004.
There you have it folks, part of the sordid mess that is ongoing to this day. Parts in italics happened to me back in the early 90's.
Wily Veterans in the system know what is happening. Those who were hurt by the system. It took me 15 years of learning the ins and outs of the VA to get what I receive today. However, most of us are caught between a rock and a hard place; be vocal and you bite the hand that feeds you; stay silent, and be grateful that you have yours already. I now accept the fact that it takes a hell of a long time to get things accomplished in the VA system. It shouldn't but it does. With the masses of new wounded troops returning I'm glad things might change.