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.