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Problems with VA stretch back for decades

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There is no one more angry or upset than I am about the Department of Veterans Affairs and poor vet treatment.

The care is very good, but the process and access are poor. Looking for a single villain is a fool’s errand as most ignore the roots of the problem that stretch back decades, well before Mr. Obama or Gen. Shinseki took office.

The sheen of shame over the VA’s failures spreads across time and party affiliation. It stains the legacies of presidents as far back as JFK and condemns past Congresses whose poor oversight allowed the problem to fester as well.

The VA is also not without fault as bureaucracy and intransigence let the department deteriorate to the point that problems became nearly impossible to fix. Growth in claims; why? In a word, the VA system was not prepared for the growth.

For example, the Obama administration made it easier for veterans to get compensation for both post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to Agent Orange. The Vietnam War era defoliant now is tied to a long list of neurological disorders.

Those moves extended help to long-suffering veterans, but they weren’t matched by the VA reforms needed to adequately address the new claims. Agent Orange alone took up 37 percent of the veteran claim processing times nationally from October 2010 to March 2012, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

And as claims have soared, so have the wait times. In 2009, there were about 423,000 claims at the VA with 150,000 claims pending for more than four months (the official wait time it takes a claim to be considered backlogged).

By 2012, claims had exploded to more than 883,000, and 586,540 of those sat on the VA’s backlog list. Then we had the fake scheduling scandal; that is shameful beyond words.

Lest we forget the two intense wars we were in since 9/11. The VA and indeed the country were not prepared for the influx of new needy vets. A lot of folks wanted war but had no concept of the wounded afterward. Sadly, it has always been this way: vets needed in wartime then cast aside later on.

Needless to say, we need to fix the VA. We need to stop talking about fixing it. If we can send a man to and from the moon safely, for sure we can send a vet to the VA and ensure his or her care.

Danny M. Francis

Watertown

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