New administrator: ‘We’re working very hard to transform the VA for veterans’


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Annual Reports 1986-2012

The number of veterans has been on a decline since 1986. However, the number of veterans with service-connected disabilities has risen sharply since 2002.

Having a system to care for a nation’s veterans is something almost every war-involved country does.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans. As far back as 1636, a system has been in place to support disabled soldiers.

In 1917, Congress established a system of benefits for veterans, including disability, insurance and rehabilitation. In the 1920s, there were three separate federal agencies administering benefits: the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan created a new cabinet-level executive department office for the VA. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush said, “There is only one place the Veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.”

As indicated in the chart accompanying this story, the number of veterans has been trending downward since a high point in 1986. However, the number of veterans with service-connected disabilities has sharply increased from 2002 to 2012.

As a result of an influx of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,  the VA system has been overwhelmed—not only by the soldiers but internal issues.

A Nov. 10 article from Huffington Post, reported there are approximately 29,000 veterans who have been denied enrollment for healthcare benefits because of a computer error. This issue has been ongoing since August 2015.

VA spokeswoman Walinda West responded in the same article.

“VA is continuing to research Combat Veterans with expired eligibility in order to ensure appropriate remedies,” West said in a statement.

In a separate article on July 13, Huffington Post ran a headline reading, “Leaked Document: Nearly One Third of 847,000 Vets With Pending Applications for VA Health Care Already Died.” The article also states that an internal filing system could be the cause for applications left uncompleted.

“When we got back from Iraq in 2009, I almost immediately had an appointment at the VA,” said Tom Jones, Lebanon, Mo.  Jones was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008-09. “Then, it was nearly four months before I heard anything back for a follow-up, and I told them I had issues and needed help.”

“We filled out papers at Ft. Dix when we got back to the US and were told, ‘They will contact you.’ I had to contact them,” said Jimmy Stokes II, Springfield, Mo.

After a whistleblower in Phoenix released information about a “secret waiting list” in 2014, the VA and government have said they’re working on solving the gridlock. In May 2015, it was found that 1,700 veterans were taken off the official list to make it seem appointments were being made and held. However, many waited for six months or longer.

“We are working to ensure our nation’s veterans get the benefits they have earned and the services they need,” said President Barack Obama at a press conference.

As a result of the whistleblowing, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned on May 31, 2014.  Shinseki was replaced by Robert McDonald. In his 15 months so far, McDonald has continued to say the bureau wants to make changes.

“We’re working very hard to transform the VA for veterans,” McDonald said in a statement. “We’ve got a lot of good people working very hard, but for some reason it doesn’t get out to the public.”