Roost on VA: Not making our veterans a priority is poor leadership

By Amy Roost

I’ve never been much of a conspiracy theorist, however, it has gotten to the point where there must something more than what meets the eye going on at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Amy Roost

Current VA claims surpassed 900,000 cases earlier this year, and with 34,000 troops soon returning from Afghanistan that number is expected to grow. In the fiscal year that ended in September 2011, the agency paid $437 million in retroactive benefits to the survivors of nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting, a figure that represents a dramatic increase from three years earlier.

The number of claims being submitted should have been predictable enough after two wars both exceeding a decade and resulting in 5,000 American deaths and over 50,000 wounded. Add to those statistics the long overdue improved regulations making it easier for veterans suffering from PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange exposure to get the support they need, and anyone with a calculator could have predicted an enormous increase in claims.

Part of the reason we failed to see this crisis coming was there was some faulty (read hubristic) assumptions made by the previous administration about both wars. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thought the Iraq war wouldn’t last longer than six months, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted the war would last a matter of weeks, and President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” 10 years prematurely. The Bush administration didn’t give much thought to an exit strategy in either Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone a plan for how the country would pay to care for our wounded veterans and the ravaged families of those who were killed in combat.

The VA estimates the tab for treating new PTSD and Agent Orange cases alone will be $45 billion over the next decade. That doesn’t include your garden variety disability claims. This price tag during tough economic times is the main reason the VA is dragging its feet on claims. Not the reason so often cited, i.e. because the department doesn’t have the technology or man power to do so.

Another overlooked reason for the backlog is that just as laws are meant to be broken, insurance claims are meant to be denied. “Boy-oh-boy! My insurance claim was approved quickly!” said no insured person, ever. The insurance industry lives by the motto “Delay! Don’t pay! Until they go away!” Add a bureaucratic overlay and you begin to understand why veterans are so frustrated that some don’t even bother to file claims.

I’ve learned the hard way how insurance company bean counters depend on frustration and attrition to keep costs down. Only a small percentage of claimants will appeal an insurer’s decision once; an even smaller percentage will appeal again and again. I literally tricked one insurer into allowing me to take my son to see an out-of-network specialist (one of only two in the world) for a rare brain malformation. Fortunately, my next door neighbor was in senior management for a different insurance company and advised me every step along the way. Finally, after multiple appeals, and months of waiting and watching my son suffer, our claim was approved.

The Obama administration and the several that came before it (the past six VA secretaries have promised to fix the backlog problem) have demonstrated a lack of leadership by not making our veterans a priority. Meanwhile Congress spends most of its time debating issues like abortion, contraception, and sodomy instead of appropriating funds to take care of those who fought for our country.

If we can blithely sacrifice the lives of 5,000 American soldiers, then we damn well better provide their families and those lucky enough to return from war what was promised them when they agreed to serve. For our government not to do so is shameful and borders on willful malfeasance.

Roost works in the book publishing industry.

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Posted by Staff on Apr 17 2013. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Comments for “Roost on VA: Not making our veterans a priority is poor leadership”

  1. jimstaro

    The 'poor leadership' are those served by the extreme minority!!!!

    "If military action is worth our troops' blood, it should be worth our treasure, too; not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    Been a decade plus of No Sacrifice by those served nor demand they should, DeJa-Vu all over again, added to the previous decades and wars of. Easier to ignore, PTS, Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, Burn Pit Contamination, to name but a few. Then to pay for the decades to come results of our wars. This past decade plus neither war has yet to be paid for, rubber stamped costs for and deficit rapid rising started Before 9/11.

    –*From the Costs of War Project:*– "Because the Iraq war appropriations for FY2003 – FY2013 were not funded with new taxes, but by borrowing, it is important to keep in mind the interest costs already paid, and future interest costs. Iraq War appropriations for DOD and State were 54 percent of the interest costs. If one were to include Iraq's share of cumulative interest through 2053, those costs could be more than $3.9 trillion."–

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    Prior too this present Executive and Veterans administrations:
    Oct 16, 2008 – VA claims found in piles to be shredded
    October 24, 2008 – House panel will target VA shredding
    February 11, 2009 – Veterans' Claims Found in Shredder Bins

    And more disturbing in relation to even before and through the early years of these two wars and occupations, this:

    Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
    "DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War."

    "We are dealing with veterans, not procedure; with their problems, not ours." General Omar Bradley, First Administrator of the Veterans Administration

    "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." – Abraham Lincoln {but the country does after each modern war, since Korea, and no sacrifice as to Afghanistan and Iraq!}

    It's extremely easy to join the attacks against the long underfunded, and with wars adding to the peoples responsibility they ignore, Veterans Administration by those charged to fully fund as they do the wars, the peoples representatives be they Federal or State, kept underfunded as they seek to privatize for profit not reponsible support for those who serve the nation.

    Military and Vets On FLOTUS and SLOTUS, Administration and it's Cabinet, "Best – Ever": "We haven't had this kind of visibility from the White House—ever." Joyce Raezer – Dec. 30, 2011", and plenty more of similar since Joyce spoke and also will continue, as will the obstruction as the tepubs continue seeking to privatize the Veterans Administration, the peoples responsibility to those that serve them!

    USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

  2. Rdub

    When will the two agencies put their egos aside and combine the medical sides of the DoD and the VA? They never should have been split in the first place. Once you join the DoD and receive training, and put your time in to the service of your country the DoD should take the responsibility for that. Instead they throw them over to another agency who has no history of their records or their service. And the public expects miracles, that the VA will be able to jump in and fix all the problems of this service member, many of which probably started before their MEPS appointment. If you don't do it for the continuity of service, respect for our service men and women, or streamlining of medical training then do it for the budget savings.

  3. Jess Winter

    I work for, and get care from, the VA. I have come carefully and reluctantly to the firm belief that the whole program should be torched. Defunded and disbanded. I'd give up my job tomorrow to give the billions spent on very subpar 'care' directly to the vets and let them go to private providers who actually have to compete for business by providing excellent care. Here, there's no incentive whatsoever to do better and as a result a lot of people do about 1/5th the work that they could. The vets need the VA and not the other way around, making it the DMV of healthcare experiences and I've never witnessed such organizational disfunction and mismanagement on such a grand scale. The conception and intent of Lincoln were pure and admirable, however government provision without competition is a deeply flawed concept that will only continue to fail more spectacularly with each passing day.

  4. Tom Yarnall

    Well said Jess. I believe the VA is a reflection of many Federal agencies who are inefficient, bloated and have no standards for performance. Hopefully, in the future, we can get some leadership who is willing to hit the reset button and move more responsibility to the states and to the private sector.

  5. Terry Daniels

    The VA's new totally electronic claims processing system (VBMS – Veterans Benefits Management System) is being implemented in all 56 regional offices. That should be completed by the end of 2013. That automation should virtually eliminate the 'paperwork' backlog as well as separate out and more clearly reveal any alleged “Delay! Don’t pay! Until they go away!” schemes left in the process. I don't believe that practice really exists. Whether or not it does, the elimination of a pile of paper to hide behind should deter any future temptation to torpedo claims without sound, justifiable reason. I hope 'should' turns into 'does' for all the claimants.

  6. Tim Williams

    Amy, I agree with your topic, but am really getting tired of the Bush blaming. You actually wasted 1/3rd of your article in a way that diminishes your credibility. Everybody in our town knows where you stand, politically. Can you not write anything that offers something for all readers instead of being offensive to more than half the population? Obama is in his second term and he owns everything that has happened since taking office. The way Obama handled Benghazi, I am so glad he was not in office on 911.

  7. Amy Roost

    Hey Tim, Here's another Wikipedia entry for you:
    Psychological projection was first conceptualized by Sigmund Freud as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world instead.

    I wasn't "bashing Bush". That's to easy. I like more of a challenge. I was merely pointing out that BOTH the Bush and Obama administrations failed to plan ahead. If you're going to have two wars, you're going to have many veterans for many years with many needs to be met. If you're going to loosen the requirements on Agent Orange and PTSD you're going to be inundated with new claims. Both administrations failed to account and prepare for these realities. You forget Tim that I once worked, and greatly respected, for a Republican U.S. Senator, that I've written many a column about the left and the right finding common ground, for God's sake I've even had serious relationships with Republicans!

    I'm writing an opinion column not a 'don't offend' column or 'pander the the least common denominator column'. However, I'm very capable of hearing and liking and respecting the other side. Your opinion is yours I respect it. I just wish you'd deal in facts rather than personal attacks and assumptions about who I am as a "liberal". We are not monolithic.

    And as far as Obama's ability to lead thur a crisis, I'd beg to differ. Tucson, Newtown, and now Boston prove that he's very capable when the country is besieged.

    • EducatedThinker

      Well said Amy (except for the typos). I couldn't agree with you more. I also note that Mr. Williams doesn't seem to have any problem with the uninformed, ultra-conservative and frequently offensive drivel that Mr. Lyles so often spouts.

      Please keep your columns coming. Many people in this community truly enjoy and appreciate them, and for the most part they (and I) agree with you! Thank you!

  8. Tim Williams

    Touche re: Freud. "I wasn't bashing Bush. That's to easy." I rest my case.

    I'm really not even sure why liberals feel the need to even bring up President Bush if they were so satisfied with Obama. Let me get this right, bash Bush in order to make Obama look good. You bring up Tucson, Newtown, Boston which require local police action. Tell me about Benghazi? This required Presidential action and your man did what? (silence).

    Everyone is entitled to their view and liberals are not better than anyone else as they would try to have you believe. My earlier points were made in an effort to let you and your friends know that Obama is responsible for what he does or what he does not do. I think your opinions would e more credible if you could just stay on topic instead of trashing those you disagree with.

    As for "Educated Thinker," you have to hide behind some user name. Step up. Use your name. Be proud.

    Have a good day, folks.

    • Amy Roost

      "You bring up Tucson, Newtown, Boston which require local police action."

      Tim, the entire city of Boston was under martial law the last few days. You get that, right? MARTIAL LAW.In a cameras-everywhere society, we went from tragedy to identification to capture in less than five days. And to make that happen, the full-force of the government came in, shut down a major metropolitan area, instituted a no-fly zone, flooded the place with troops and technology and locked it down until it completed it’s mission.

      "Tell me about Benghazi?" Obama did speak of the attack as terrorism right away. The president had the chance to be more complete and direct during the ensuing week, but they were not, continuing to focus on attack as a response to an anti-Islamic video.

      What we don’t know is whether the shifting descriptions reflected honest confusion over conflicting reports or a desire to deflect criticism for being unprepared. Regardless, Obama did not cause the attack. He appointed a commission to investigate the attack and make recommendations for improved embassy security. Interestingly, if you Google Obama response Benghazi, what you'll find is a litany of conservative web sites like and National Review spewing conspiracy theory. No mainstream reports are cited on the first page of that Google search. The right has whipped up and stirred this theory that Obama is somehow to blame for Benghazi and the so-called coverup is somehow sinister. Secretary of State Clinton accepted responsibility for the decisions made within her department and the president said the ultimate responsibility falls on his shoulders. It's a preposterous theory that Obama caused Benghazi or allowed Stevens to be tortured, but the right is unwilling to settle for anything explanation less than a conspiriaorial one and for any resolution short of Obama's head on a stake.

  9. Ron

    Another day, and another wasted column.
    Do you not understand by now how limited the Gummint is when it comes to doing everything for everyone?
    The Government was never envisioned to be "one stop shopping",
    only in the mind of a deluded utopian.
    Imperfect people create imperfect results.
    Imperfect people with great power create the circumstances to create great harm to many more.

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