Friday, December 28, 2007

An Editorial from San Antonio and my thoughts at the bottom

San Antonio Editorial on new VA Secretary

Editorial: New VA secretary has huge challenge

Web Posted: 12/27/2007 05:56 PM CST

San Antonio Express-News

As 2008 approaches, veterans hope the new year is brighter than the one about to end.
Cynics will say it could not be much worse.

But the hope seems well placed, considering the credentials of the new secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Army Lt. Gen. James Peake, confirmed earlier this month, succeeded a man who resigned over criticism of poor medical care at VA facilities throughout the country, James Nicholson.

As the first doctor and military general named to lead the VA — he served as surgeon general for the Army from 2000 to 2004 — Peake is uniquely qualified to address the problems at the scandal-plagued department.

The VA's troubles will provide an opportunity for individuals of conscience and integrity to rectify the problems, which include the following:

Staffing shortages at facilities, especially those in rural areas.

Delays in responding to health care claims.


Peake promised to look into these issues.

"I understand I'm part of the administration," Peake told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearing, according to news reports. "But I also have a responsibility to the administration and this committee to lay out the situation openly and honestly and to fight for the resources to do my job, which is to take care of veterans."

It is a noble agenda, but he has taken on a huge challenge.

Peake will need a partner in undertaking that challenge, and the partner is the Congress, which cannot forget the problem by pawning it off on the secretary.

At least one senator agrees with that assessment, Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who told the Los Angeles Times that if the secretary asks for more resources, the "entire Congress" will support him.

As 2008 — and the years beyond — unfold, veterans will remember the pledges of both men.


The thing veterans will be watching is will Secretary Peake be working to help them and their families or to keep a lid on the cost of care and compensation as the past VA Secretaries have done, it's admirable that the Bush Administration takes the claim they have raised VA spending 70% the trouble with their argument is on the compensation side of the budget, it is mandatory if a veteran files a claim and it is determined that the problem is service connected then the money
HAS to be paid which is approximately 50% of the VA budget. It didn't matter who was President or who will be President that money has to be allocated. It has been shown that on the health care side of the budget that it has always been short changed, in 2005 Senator Patty Murray D-Wash attempted to get a 2 billion dollar supplemental thru the Congress for the VA for mental health and other financial shortages, the Republicans voted her measure down, yet less than three months later Secretary Nicholson came to Capitol Hill and asked for one billion dollars at the beginning of June 2005, by the end of the month he was back asking for a second billion, it turns out Senator Murray was correct in her assessment of the shortages.

Instead of being treated like beggars asking for a hand out, this nations veterans deserve all the health care they need, not rationed appointments, if the VA can NOT deliver it, then they should be outsourcing it to local hospitals and paying the bills, these veterans have earned it, by their service.

The claims process for compensation should not be the adversarial process it is now and has been since the end of the Korean War, the veterans are denied the "benefit of the doubt" they have to
prove" they were harmed in service and many times there is no documentation to prove it happened on this battlefield at this time. Many of the witnesses are either dead or you know their names but have no idea where they moved to after the military and have to deal with the VA 3-30 years later.

The claims and appeals process should not be a 2-10 year process, the files are all paper, some of the claims folders are 2-10 feet thick and no one is reading all of the evidence, many times the documents the veterans need to "prove" their case is at the bottom of the file and has been there the entire time, just overlooked, and the VA does not say sorry, does not pay interest on the withheld funds for 5 years.

In the meantime most of the veterans have had their marriages destroyed by lack of money, they have lost their homes, their cars, their children and their dignity, there has to be a better process. The veterans have earned it, most are asking for justice, not a get rich quick scheme, most veterans I know want just what they are owed, nothing more and nothing less, prosecute the frauds and few will be determined to file fraudulent claims, the idea of a few years in prison will deter all but the truly criminal. Most of the men and women I met in the service are anything but criminal. They deserve better than what they have been getting from the VA and Congress.

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