It’s an old saying with new meaning to veterans all over the nation. Justice delayed is justice denied. “News” of the backlog at the VA is not news at all to any veterans who are still waiting for their claim to be processed, but the saga continues in a dramatic way.
Secretary Shinseki has been working with the VA to create a plan that is to eliminate the backlog by 2015. Is that a reasonable goal? Is it an acceptable goal? Are they going to hit it? What is creating the backlog in the first place? First, let’s analyze the numbers.
The department of Veterans Affairs currently has 880,264 cases pending across the nation. Veterans wait an average time of 318 days before getting the first response from the VA that their claim has been processed. Of the 880,264 cases, 600,000 are considered backlogged. To be considered backlogged, a case has to have been pending for 125 days. The average amount of time that a veteran waits for a first response has nearly doubled in the last four years. So, is eliminating the backlog by 2015 a reasonable goal?
It probably is. Considering the amount of change that needs to take place in the infrastructure of the VA to better streamline the claims process, it is reasonable to expect that it will take at least a year to properly implement the changes, then even longer for them to take sizable bites out of the remaining load of claims. While many veterans are frustrated and even offended by their interactions with the VA and VA officials, it is widely recognized that those who work with the VA are on board with getting the claims processed as quickly as possible, as many of them are veterans themselves. But is the goal of being rid of the backlog by 2015 acceptable?
It’s going to have to be. While the old saying rings true, there isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now. There’s another old saying to not cry over spilled milk. The backlog should never have happened in the first place, and if the VA had been acting in ways to speed up their process before this, we wouldn’t be here. If the VA had implemented digital application and processing systems long before now, they wouldn’t have to be implemented in the middle of this crisis. If the VA had prepared for the return of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan by hiring more claims processors or making other changes to prepare for the high volume, they wouldn’t be scrambling to do so now. Hindsight may be 20/20, but these are things the VA should have foreseen. But, lest we cast all of the blame on the shoulders of the VA, the VA may not have been granted the necessary funding to make those changes before now. So, while justice delayed is justice denied, let’s not cry over spilled milk and let us focus on putting our noses to the grindstone.
But is the VA going to hit Secretary Shinseki’s goal? Maybe. It’s an ambitious goal, and the VA has been planning some radical changes to see that it gets hit. But whether because it’s a political hot-topic or because Washington is genuinely concerned about her veterans, more and more government agencies and officials are jumping on the bandwagon to help ensure that the VA hits their optimistic goal. The Government Accountability Office, which exists solely for the purpose of making sure the government is held accountable for their actions (yes, we all know they’re doing a bang-up job), has audited the VA and evaluated their plan for getting rid of the backlog. Unfortunately, they found the plan wanting. Not only did they estimate that the intended changes would fall short of removing the backlog by 2015, they also said that the strategy did not fit the criteria for “sound planning”. Congress is jumping on board with attempting to pass legislation to assist the VA, because, as Mike Michaud (D-Maine) so acutely said, the backlog is “unacceptably large”. Thank you, Mike. As the VA works to implement their plans, we can likely anticipate Congress to do what it usually does – nothing.
Often the best way to find a solution is to figure out what is causing the problem in the first place. There are two primary factors that are contributing to the backlog. The first, and probably most potent, is the antiquated processing system that the VA is using, which is still paper-based. The second is the influx of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom survived only because of modern health technology advances. Because of these advances, many who would have died survived but with injuries, and are now filing claims with the VA. Hopefully, the VA will be able to hit their goal of getting rid of the backlog by 2015, and we hope for veterans everywhere that justice will no longer be denied.