The Trump administration is winning against an entrenched Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy that has habitually failed to properly serve its customers – our veterans.
Recent tussling between Congress and VA bureaucrats squeezed out some positive news for an agency that has been slow to respond to its constituents and stakeholders. Aloof and unresponsive, the VA headquarters finally found a way to make good on legislation that promises to pay post 9/11 veterans increased rates for their education and housing costs.
In short, the VA previously denied payments or underpaid recipients of the Forever GI Bill. VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence last week said, “Each and every veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole – retroactively if need be – for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped (Department of Defense) rates, and beginning in spring 2020, we will be in a position to provide veterans with the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”
It will take public servants willing to work 24/7 to beat down the barricades and fix the system. It is time to make that assault.
What should not have been an issue became one, but now through the joint pressure of the White House and Republican Congress, veterans may catch a break from the organization entrusted with their care. The VA’s sleight of hand is expert, though, and we should not count these chickens until they’ve hatched, survived, and lived full and productive lives.
Point in hand, Secretary Lawrence later told Congress in the same hearing that he couldn’t confirm that all veterans would be appropriately reimbursed. Say what? The VA double speak will make your head spin, because they are experts at it, honed by years of practice and technique refinement. Lawrence should know better, having served in the army as a captain and later going on to be a successful businessman. Perhaps we should dock Lawrence’s pay (not that it would matter to him) until he can follow the law and serve our veterans.
Unfortunately, our veterans are all too familiar with VA incompetence. There is no greater symbol of the VA’s ineptitude than the massive failure in 2014 during President Obama’s indifferent reign as Commander in Chief. Unfamiliar with the scale and scope of large operations, Obama returned over 100,000 veterans from combat in Iraq in 2011, yet failed to properly prepare or scale the VA to handle the surge of physically and mentally wounded veterans.
As a result, the indifference reached a crescendo in 2014 when a reported 40 service members died waiting for care at one facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The VA was unable to meet its own service level agreement of an appointment within 14 days. Veterans often had to wait months for an appointment. Many gave up. Several died. And the FBI opened an investigation of the malfeasance.
Fixing the VA is one of President Trump’s campaign promises. We still have work to do, because the resistance is manifest in the VA – where veterans have little recourse when it comes to a historically unresponsive agency. The president already fired one VA Secretary, Obama holdover David Shulkin, for sitting on his hands.
Current Secretary Robert Wilkie shows promise. When the under-secretary Lawrence waffled before Congress, Wilkie was quick to shore up the double talk with some straight talk.
He said, “Each and every beneficiary will receive retroactively the exact benefits to which they are entitled under that law.”
That sounds okay, but we need to get to a point where nothing is retroactive. Most veterans don’t have the means to float from month to month, awaiting some distant retroactive payment that they earned through their service.
We need constant energy and focus in the VA to fix an institution entrenched against reform and innovation. It will take public servants willing to work 24/7 to beat down the barricades and fix the system.
It is time to make that assault.