Republicans stand to make substantial gains in the veteran vote should Democrats fail to reel in its Veterans Affairs and those criminal staff still working at the agency. But this is unlikely. Lately, every day I read the news, I am greeted with a new bonanza of VA douche-baggery or some other kind of misdeed that harms veterans.
Even President Obama’s own investigation declared VA to be rampant with a “corrosive culture” that can only be fixed with a near overhaul.
There are currently more VA scandals actively in play right now than I have seen in recent history. Last week, Rep. Jeff Miller declared the current Veterans Affairs to be the most scandalous in agency history. I think he is right, and the one piece to the puzzle that is central across all VA scandals existing today is money. At the 30,000 ft view, VA looks like little more than an insurance company for DoD that mitigates the cost of war to the best of its ability. Lately, those attempts to keep costs down look like they veered onto the wrong side of the law.
Hi and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Quarterback for Veterans (MMQB). I am your host, Benjamin Krause, creator of DisabledVeterans.org.
The point of this MMQB will be to highlight how the nation is waking up to the plight of veterans. We at DisabledVeterans.org are doing our part, and this article will give insight into that fight. This MMQB will be shorter than normal due to the holiday, and I will use it to highlight the major scandals currently in play over this past couple years that are still unresolved.
Here are the scandals we will make note of today. Give me some feedback if you recall a specific scandal I left off the list. The common theme running through all these scandals has everything to do with money.
These are the most serious I could think of:
- Suicide rate skyrockets
- Health care wait list
- Disability backlog fix
- Fiduciary rip-off
- Bonus rip-off
- VA software rip-off
1. Suicide rate for young veterans skyrockets
Compared to older veterans, the suicide rate for veterans under 30 years old has increased 44 percent from 2009 to 2011. This indicates VA is not addressing the needs of young veterans, many of whom are recently returning from combat. Current estimates show approximately 22 veterans commit suicide per day. This is a scandal because VA has doled out millions of dollars to health care facilities across the country, but those facilities still lag well behind the need. Whistleblowers report the money was misspent in some facilities and given back to central office in others. The fear in various medical centers is that new blood will help root out their control over local policies that allow well paid doctors to see only half the number of patients as in the private sector.
2. Health care wait list scandal
VA employees were caught gaming the wait list system to improve the appearance of performance numbers to central office. The scandal killed veterans because of delayed treatment times, while VA staff appeared to be performing above average. Many VA employees received bonuses during this period. VA refused to send veterans outside of the VA health care system to avoid ramping up fee costs from private care providers.
3. Disability backlog still a problem, linked to Obamacare
I was shocked to learn that even Obamacare somehow slipped into the scandals plaguing VA. Last April, Under Secretary Allison Hickey announced a new plan to reduce the delay for veterans to receive disability compensation benefits. In theory, the plan sounded okay, but VA managed to screw it up. In practice, the plan merely funneled more claims through the claims process, but it simultaneously increased the number of poorly adjudicated claims due to the rush which created an appeals backlog. VA then redefined what it reported within its “backlog” numbers to make it appear that the agency was on track. To make matters worse, VA executives pulled employees off the backlog to work on an Obamacare promotion. We learned of this fact last week. So on the one hand, some VA executive somewhere tried to earn brownie points from Obama by redirecting work flows. Meanwhile, VA still was withholding veterans’ payments and making bad decisions that effectively reduce the overall payout of VA for disability.
4. VA lacks effective fiduciary oversight
The agency still struggles with oversight related to its fiduciary program where third parties are often in charge of a veteran’s finances. If VA determines the veteran is unable to manage his or her own finances, the agency unilaterally assigns a fiduciary. Problems are created because the veteran is denied effective due process and occasionally the agency makes the decision incorrectly. The practice is largely unconstitutional, and the agency has admitted it is unable to effectively evaluate complaints from veterans where the fiduciary is improperly managing the funds.
5. Bonus rip-off
VA employees at scandal riddled facilities across the country received bonuses despite the obvious problems within its own rating system. Delays in wait time measures were supposed to be included within the rating system. This fact serves to link illegal behavior defrauding veterans of needed health care to the current VA bonus structure, which could be construed as fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in certain instances.
6. VA software rip-off
Veterans Affairs is constantly coming up with new ways it can improve its software systems, but the systems never work. Recently, VA admitted its new eBenefits system was nothing like VA executives sold Congress – now over 300,000 benefits claims are set to be deleted from the system. The GI Bill processing system was not finished in 2013, and is not slated to be finished in 2014 despite over $263 million in spending and being only half done. VA and DoD spent over a billion on figuring out how to make VA’s VistA system talk with DoD’s health care system. The study concluded the agencies did not know enough to make clear decisions, after spending $1 billion.
Did I miss one?
Add a scandal I may have missed from this list. I plan to start a Krause Report – kind of like Drudge Report except nonpartisan and veteran focused. Please lend a hand by posting links to other scandals below. I am sure I left a few out.
Benjamin Krause is an award winning investigative reporter, Veterans Benefits Law attorney, and disabled veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in its Special Operations Command. He attended Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota Law School using VA Vocational Rehabilitation.
While in law school, Benjamin won his decade-long fight for full disability benefits and now helps others do the same with this website and his guide, the Voc Rehab Survival Guide for Veterans. Since its first publication in 2011, the guide has helped the veteran community receive millions in untapped benefits through the VA Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment program.