OTR Interviews

Allen West: Money used to promote ObamaCare should be used to fix disgraceful backlog in veterans' disability claims

In another example of misguided priorities, our veterans remain on backlog while awaiting their compensation as Dept. of Veteran Affairs employees reap millions in bonuses


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 26, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Congressman, if you'll stay with us, we have to talk about some other things with you. Want to ask you about a new report that despite staggering, disgraceful backlogs in processing veterans' disability compensation requests, the Veterans Affairs Department is giving its workers big bonuses.

First, for the latest on this report, The National Review's Andrew Johnson joins us. Good evening.

ANDREW JOHNSON, NATIONAL REVIEW: Hi, Greta. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here. And hi to the congressman, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good to have you. All right, tell me, what's this report that -- I mean, who's getting -- who's getting bonuses at the VA and why?

JOHNSON: Well, basically, what happened is we have the Veterans Affairs Department. They were trying to address what you discussed, the backlogs problems. But the problem is in their attempt to fix that, they created a system that actually encourages employees to only add more to the massive backlog issue that we have right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in terms of (INAUDIBLE) why is -- because they get -- the more they processed, the more likely they get bonuses, so they process the simple ones and not the complex ones with probably the more catastrophic injuries?

JOHNSON: Exactly. So what -- so what they have is they're rewarded on points, on a points system, that the more they -- the more they process, they qualify for bonuses. They qualify for job security. So naturally, that's going to incentivize and encourage a worker to go through the easier ones, make sure they ring up that total quickly.

But what goes by the wayside is actually the more complicated -- the more complicated claims, the more complex ones. And unfortunately, the losers in that situation are perhaps the veterans that maybe had a more complicated situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: How bad -- how bad is this backlog?

JOHNSON: Well, it's pretty bad. I mean, you have all kinds of horror stories. You have issues where, for example, 14,000 different veterans are waiting on appeals claims for more than two years. We have all types of horror stories like that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's a -- talk about the appeals, I read that three out of the four of the appeals claims turned out to be wrong or based on incomplete information, once they got there, and yet people get bonuses based on the processing of those claims.

JOHNSON: Yes, I mean, this seems to be a situation where it's just quantity over quality because, like you said, you have the three quarters that are done either incorrectly or with incomplete information. And part of that problem is also that they used to -- the Veterans Affairs Department used to actually award points to its claims workers for providing what they call supplemental development. That included a follow- up phone call, a follow-up letter requesting maybe more documents that they might need. But we have a situation right now where they're not even putting that by the wayside.

VAN SUSTEREN: When President Obama was in Orlando earlier this month, he talked about the fact -- he was saying that -- he said that he's going - - you know, the backlog is getting better. We're -- you know, we're -- we're getting ahead of the game. Is he just wrong on that?

JOHNSON: It would seem like it. I mean, they had a goal that by October 1st, they wanted to address all the claims and the backlogs that were over a year old. They want to get the complete backlog by October 2015. If they're just going to keep adding on more and more as they process the easier claims, instead of the older, more complicated ones by the wayside, it's hard to see how they're going to reach that point.

VAN SUSTEREN: Andrew, thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now back to former congressman Allen West, and also, of course, served in our military for a long time. What do you think about this?

ALLEN WEST, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER FLA. CONGRESSMAN: Well, it's absolutely horrible. And to me, it reminds me of the old punishment the drill sergeants used to do. You have a pile of sand and they take you -- you know, take this pile of sand and put it over there. You still have a pile of sand. It's just in a different stack.

So what they're rewarding people is, you know, we're being more efficient, but they're not being effective whatsoever. So if you have a more complex claim, your complex claim is still being pushed off to the side with others, and they're trying to take care of these simpler claims. And you know, really, in the long run, nothing is -- is -- is pushing through.

You talked about the failures and the mistakes that happened because they're really trying to rush this because now it becomes a quota thing. You know, if I get 25 completed in X amount of period of time, then I'm in line for a promotion, I'm in line for a bonus, what have you.

This is what I say. Instead of $67 million I believe that we're spending to advertise for the Affordable Care Act, why don't we use some of that money to hire enough people to process these claims, and let's look at moving away from this paper trail to an electronic system?

VAN SUSTEREN: I was in Alaska about 10 days ago, with Operation Heal Our Patriots -- Reverend Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse has it and it's to help the patriots who are severely wounded and their spouses. And you listen to the -- and you see the sacrifice that -- you know, that these -- that these families, not just the injured soldier, but you know, it affects the entire family -- the sacrifice the families have made, and yet, you know, the fact that we aren't, like, completely consumed with processing their claims quickly, swiftly and compensating them...

WEST: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... you know, it's just, like -- you know, how do we -- how do we sleep at night?

WEST: Well, some people sleep very well because they're not considering those young men and women who have given limbs or are giving, you know, parts of their bodies in stressful situations and combat situations.

I was very fortunate. I spent 22 years, I got zero disability. As a matter of fact, during my retirement physical, the doctor said I took too good care of myself.

The thing about here in Washington, D.C., when the Wounded Warrior Cafe at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is closed on the weekends, but yet we're giving $5.5 million in bonuses to people who are still just shifting paperwork from different stacks to another stack -- that's reprehensible.

These are people that make sure that we can live in the greatest nation in the world, and we should be doing everything possible. And I think that comes back to the frustration that the American people are continuing to see. We are not solving anything. We're just taking one pile of sand and we're moving it to another location.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what -- what President Obama said when he was in Orlando -- first of all, he pledged speedier service for veterans who have been...

WEST: The service is speedier.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, yes, no, that's the problem. They do the simple ones and not the more complex ones...

WEST: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and drag out -- so yes, and he also highlighted the progress in reducing the huge number of outstanding veterans disability claims. He claims the backlog has decreased by 20 percent from a high of 611,000 claims at the end of March. Now, I don't know if that 20 percent reduction is because they're focusing on the easy ones or not.

WEST: Well, it absolutely has to be. But if you're that person that is still waiting close to two years, you're not seeing anything different.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you told me there were 10,000 claims that were on backlog, I'd be scandalized. This is 611,000.

WEST: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, those numbers are staggering!

WEST: And you know, hats off to Representative Jeff Miller, who's the head of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He's doing everything he possibly can to try to get this thing resolved, but you need to have people on the administration side that's working with him, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: And my hat goes off to the private organizations who are trying to pick up the slack that the government is not like Samaritan's Purse with this.

WEST: Shouldn't be that way.

VAN SUSTEREN: No, you know, I mean, it's -- you know, it's -- we ask so much of our military families, and the least we can do is when people come back broken that we could at least try to do our best and not just put them at the end of some long line.

WEST: You know, when I first came in, the -- we were promised if you served a full career in the United States military, you'd be taken care of as far as your health benefits and your family, as well. And slowly but surely, we're breaking that promise.

VAN SUSTEREN: And these aren't little injuries. I mean, with the IEDs and the amazing things the medics do on the battlefield, they're sending people home that would not necessarily have been come home, you know...

WEST: Years ago, people would have been dying on the battlefield.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir.

WEST: Thank you, Greta.