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Reputation for Delays at V.A.

VA has a reputation for delays. That reputation is not unearned. Whether you're talking about access to medical care at a VA Medical Center, obtaining a decision on an appeal to a denial of benefits, or a decision on an administrative claim for negligence, VA action often seems to be mired in molasses.

If VA commits medical malpractice, we are required to file an administrative claim and wait for either a denial or six months to pass before we are allowed bring the case to Federal court. Six months passes more often than not without a decision from VA, and much longer is not unusual. Appeals of denials of benefits can take years. Also, many veterans, if not all, have a personal story of an intolerable wait for care at a VA Medical Center. More than one veteran has stated their belief that VA must be just waiting for them to die.

We recently were contacted by a Marine who was attempting to join the Peace Corps and, to do so, needed to obtain certain medical clearances and related paperwork. How did the VA react? By doing nothing. It's not the type of case we could handle, but - in typical Marine fashion (if you ask me) - she wasn't asking us to take her case. She just figured we would want to let others know.

Now, there are many reasons for VA's various delays. I have worked for VA, and have received medical treatment, and sought and obtained VA benefits. I have, frequently enough, been on the losing end of those delays and I have seen the causes from the inside. Often, the impression of VA delays is that of a gaggle of intransigent bureaucrats sitting around with their arms crossed, stubbornly refusing service. The case mentioned above seems to fit into that category

The truth, however, is more complicated. One of the main causes of VA delays is a matter of capacity: There are not enough resources for the number of veterans that need services. As an attorney for the Board of Veterans Appeals, from the moment a case was assigned to me, I had a matter of days (or less) to review the entire medical record, consider the relevant laws, and submit a written decision. We hustled. Yet, the VA website - as of today - says a decision on a benefits appeal can take between 5 to 7 years!

You'd think that could be solved by hiring more folks, but even that is complicated by both the regulations proscribing the actions of Federal agencies and the congressional funding that gives them the ability to do anything. It is also complicated by the fact that approximately a third of VA employees are veterans themselves! If they are doing the wrong thing or allow it to happen, they hurt themselves! It wouldn't make sense. Also, there are good people who work at VA. I was at a recent resource fair at a VA Medical Center and I witnessed a conversation between two staff members (who I found out were both veterans) about volunteering to come into work on their day off because they believed helping veterans is more of a calling than a job.

Sometimes, however, VA definitely just does the wrong thing. On a VA website you can see the reported average wait times in VA medical centers. You can compare that to your own experience. Then, you can read the Inspector General report that indicates that VA has not been reporting wait times correctly. Whether those incorrectly reported wait times are the product of mistakes or lies is immaterial: When those dates are reported incorrectly, it harms veterans.

VA exists for veterans. Many veterans are reliant on VA benefits. Because our nation felt veterans were deserving, VA was created in the hopes that they could be cared for.

Instead -- too often -- the opposite is true.


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