Today is Veterans’ Day. It’s not the only day when I am grateful to our veterans, and certainly not the only day when I remember those who died or were injured in combat. But it is one of the days when I try to say: thank you. My thoughts are with you.
I wish I didn’t have to add: and we’ll keep trying to get you the benefits you are entitled to. But I do. Here, for instance, is an article from today’s Washington Post about a lawsuit asking the VA to speed up its handling of disability claims:
“The VA estimated that in 2007 it took an average of six months to reach an initial decision on a benefits claim, according to the complaint, and processing appeals takes years.
“This is a national embarrassment,” said Cattanach, a Navy veteran with a son who has served two Army tours in Iraq. “Every day that goes by that this isn’t fixed, people’s lives are being changed,” he said, recalling his effort to obtain benefits for a veteran who committed suicide before his case was resolved.”
While a veteran’s disability claim is being processed, that veteran doesn’t get disability. S/he has to live on a fraction of his or her active duty pay, which would be OK for someone who could get another job, but is not at all OK for someone who is disabled. As I wrote last June, it doesn’t have to be this way: rather than putting the burden on vets to prove their disability, we could presume that their disability claims were true, and then audit a subset of them, the way we do with taxes. (This is an idea I got from Linda Bilmes, here.) That way, vets would get the money they are entitled to from the outset, rather than having to live off friends and family while the VA slogs through their mountains of paperwork.
Barack Obama has promised to address this problem, and to take a number of other important steps: fully funding VA medical care, improving care for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, allowing all vets to use the VA, and fighting homelessness among vets. We should hold him to it.