Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Anthony Principi: Wounded Vets Deserve Better

"To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."
Abraham Lincoln's words light the path of America's eternal responsibility to those who have served in uniform. But we have lost our focus on Lincoln's command: Veterans and their families wait far too long for the benefits they have earned. Too often, this is because those who have been injured in military service—including our most recent vets—must wait in line with those who served but were not wounded.
On Aug. 22, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said that the department has reduced a backlog of disability claims by 20% to some 773,000 cases, including about 480,000 that have been pending for more than 125 days. Yet no number of new claims processors will be skilled enough, no computer fast enough or shortcut quick enough to deal with the ever-rising tide of claims unless the VA refocuses on the kind of care the system was designed to deliver. The enumeration of benefits has evolved far beyond the nation's obligation to those who became ill or injured while in service. It is time to return to original principles.
Twelve years ago, America went to war. Since then, about 6,000 service members have been killed in action and some 50,000 wounded. Their claims for disability compensation are not choking the Veterans Affairs benefits system. They are the victims of the sclerosis now overwhelming the veterans-benefits program—a system that often puts the most needy in line behind everyone else.
Every year more than a million veterans file claims for "service-connected" disability compensation; that is, for any disability or disease arising while on active duty, regardless of how the disability or disease was incurred. Nearly 80% of those claims are from veterans whose service predates Sept. 11, 2001. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, 37% are filed by my fellow Vietnam War veterans. More than 100,000 claims were filed last year by veterans who served during peacetime.
The price for allowing veterans to file claims throughout their lives is paid by the veteran who has lost a leg to a land mine in Afghanistan; whose ability to think clearly was clouded by the explosion of an improvised explosive device in Iraq; or by the grieving widow of a newly deceased young corporal. Every claim for compensation must fend for itself in a bureaucracy for which every veteran is the first priority—which means, of course, that no veteran is the first priority.
When everyone applies for disability compensation, those who embody the reason that Veterans Affairs exists must lose out. Their claims are one more folder in an ever-higher pile. Restoring Lincoln's focus will require rethinking what VA benefits are intended to achieve. Benefits and services should respond to disabilities incurred by veterans while in service, especially disabilities incurred in combat or while training for combat.
This is not always the case today. One example: A Vietnam veteran need provide no evidence beyond a discharge showing in-country service and a diagnosis for diseases presumed to be the result of exposure to Agent Orange to get automatic service-connection. That presumption is based on tenuous medical science described by the Institute of Medicine as only "weak" or "suggestive."
Today, veterans who spent just one day in Vietnam are automatically service-connected for Type II diabetes (irrespective of other lifestyle or heredity factors); Parkinson's disease; prostate cancer; lung cancer (irrespective of smoking history) and ischemic heart disease. All of these are among the most common diseases of older men, veteran or non-veteran. Veterans Affairs examines veterans not just for the primary disease they may have, but also for conditions that may flow from it. Because these diseases get worse as veterans age, they have every incentive to regularly reopen their claims.
As a Vietnam veteran, I will be able to file a claim if I get sick at age 92, or 102. If any of those diseases contributes to my death, my widow will get the same compensation as the spouse of a service member killed in Afghanistan. My widow's claim will contribute to the pile of claims that must be processed along with the Afghanistan spouse's claim.
As the Republican chief counsel to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and later as George W. Bush's secretary of Veterans Affairs, I was part of the process that created these presumptions. I make no apology for my actions. But our obligation to future veterans calls for refocusing the benefits we provide. Clear thinking can restore balance to the system while retaining its fairness.
Shouldn't there be a cutoff date—either in age or years since service in Vietnam—for disabilities that may be related to Agent Orange? At some point, the system now goes far beyond what the law requires—resolving reasonable doubt about the degree of disability in favor of the veteran, after careful consideration of all available data—as Veterans Affairs is required to do. This makes no sense when older veterans are compensated for the expected and ordinary effects of aging.
Another source of claims crowding the line for VA benefits is the concept of "individual unemployability." Veterans Affairs can pay disability compensation at a 100% rate to veterans with lesser disabilities—evaluated as little as 60% disabled—if their disability prevents them from working. That makes sense for working-age veterans. But does it make sense when a veteran files his first claim when he is 80 or 90 years old?
Veterans Affairs is compelled to devote the same resources to deciding these claims as it does to the claims of veterans just back from Afghanistan. And these older veterans receive 100% disability compensation—as retirees, in effect—while Afghanistan veterans with below-the-knee amputations get only 40% (the degree to which the VA believes such an impairment affects a veteran's ability to work). That's just wrong.
Some have called for Secretary Shinseki's resignation. I do not. Instead, Washington—from Congress to the Pentagon—must reassess what laws, regulations and rules can be changed to ensure that benefits and other decisions Veterans Affairs makes are beyond reproach and based on the best facts available.
Let's ensure that the department's limited resources are focused on its core mission rather than dispersed in an effort to remedy every possible problem for every veteran. Remember, when everyone is first priority, no one is.


  1. The Person that wrote this apparently not a Veteran. If they knew how Agent Orange effects people they would not have written such a stupid question. People that would believe such a question, is either not a Veteran or ever had a veteran in the military in their family. Maybe this person should be inducted into the military and send them where ever the war is being fought and let them come home and have some of the illnesses that the Vietnam Veterans have and let them come down with the illnesses and deny that person that files a claim and cannot receive any help or be doctored. My thoughts are they should send all the congressmen to war and let them find out for themselves...
    From a Vietnam Veteran's Wife.

  2. I am a veteran and support some of his data. I suggested a long time ago that just like battle triage, the disability claims should be staged in the same matter. That fell on VA's deaf ears. It took me over 7 years to get my 10% disability, but I feel that I was treated fairly once I got to see the VA medical personnel and not a contracted doctor as the disability was not in a combat setting, but was in a live fire, artillery setting.


  4. Anthony Joseph Principi (born April 16, 1944) was the 4th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He was appointed by President George W. Bush on January 23, 2001, and resigned on January 26, 2005. He is currently a lobbyist for Pfizer and chairman of QTC Management, a company that works on contracts for the Veterans Affairs Department.[1] Source; WIKIPEDIA
    Dude, why so anti-veteran these days? Old age perhaps?
    WE [combat veterans] all supported the colors, some even to their death. I have a list of maladies a mile long, serious maladies. So I ask you why in the world would I support your "answer" to the problem? A well managed private sector company would bring in temps to handle the backlog.

  5. Posted by CWO-2 Michael J. Davis; SS, DFC, PH, GCM, U.S. Army (Ret.); National Director of Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd.; VET-NET.

    Mr. Principi, in fact a Veteran, apparently succumbed to his greed - helping to create, then profitering from, a "Cash Cow" drain on the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). "Contracting out" [to QTC] the performance of medical examinations for Veterans' Disabilities, at grossly inflated prices, has siphoned-off billions of dollars from the VA's budget -- into private pockets, including his own.

    Being attorneys, he and his closest cohorts assured that their activities could be classified as "technically" legal, although, if "normal people" had performed similarly, we would surely have been charged, tried and jailed for rape of the federal treasury and for the grevious abuses of our Nation's Disabled Veterans that their greed precipitated.

    Although copiously documented and presented, proof of Mr. Principi's wrongdoings has been ignored by our Nation's investigation & prosecution agencies.

    Mr. Principi's profiteering is yet another example of the private diversion [read: Theft] of funds intended "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."

    For historical perspective, read:
    - The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home From Valley Forge to Vietnam, by Richard Severo & Lewis Milford, and;
    - Vets Under Siege: How America Deceives and Dishonors Those Who Fight Our Battles, by Martin Schram

  6. Sir you are a sick bastard. The VA has gotten into this condition by shredding our documents and claiming they never got them (you remember that don't you) and turning down claims that should of been paid, so the Vet appeals increasing the back log. So now you are blaming us because you are not paying a younger Vet? Most of the raters are union employees that don't even know anything about herbicides. It was very interesting awhile back when the VA checked some claims for accuracy and found a very high percentage of mistakes and of course the question comes to my mind what did you do with the claims, did you correct the mistake and pay them? Hell no! If you remember, the DoD and DOW used that poison on us knowing it was contaminated. The US should have been charged with war crimes for spraying civilian food crops with it and you want to shove it under the rug again. The DoD paid alvin young to write a false report in 2006 so the VA could turn more "Outside Vietnam" claims down claiming they were not the same "Tactical Herbicides". I have the documents showing they were all the same commercial herbicides. I have the documents showing alvin young lied in his report. I can show you in my denial where evidence was suppressed by the VA. You have got a lot of nerve to put this crap out. You are either stupid or you are trying to continue the "Screw Job".

    Thanks A Lot, If you are looking for me I will be down to the recruiting station trying to warn young people about you.

    Ralph Stanton

    1. Principi is indeed a bastard.
      Just think ,he had a taxpayer funded college education USNA.He was a lobiest
      He managed to get away with deception ,cheating and theft during his government
      service and thereafter.
      Only in American can a parasite of this magnitude remain free.

  7. Mr. Principi is indeed a bastard ! Just think,He had his college payed for by American taxpayers.
    During his term as VA secretary he cut off benefits from qualified veterans to hide his ineptness in managing the job he was appointed to do.He became a lobbiest and later managed to deceive ,cheat and steal taxpayer money in shady government deals.
    The peace he wrote above just shows his feeble attempt to justify his ineptness.