What is the V.A.?
The Veterans Administration, also known as the “VA”, was established as an independent agency under the President by Executive Order 5398 on July 21, 1930 and was elevated to Cabinet level on March 15, 1989 (Public Law No. 100-527). The Veterans Administration, also referred to as “The VA” or “VA”, is an organization who’s “goal is to provide excellence in patient care, veterans’ benefits and customer satisfaction. We have reformed our department internally and are striving for high quality, prompt and seamless service to veterans. Our department’s employees continue to offer their dedication and commitment to help veterans get the services they have earned”. Source: About VA Home
What Does The VA Offer?
The disabilities of the Disabled Veterans are not equal, some vets have minor disabilities that do not hinder their ability to make a good living and other vets are so severely disabled that they simply cannot work to support themselves. This is why the VA has a rating system to classify its Veterans.
VA Ratings and Compensation
The VA rates their veterans in 10% increments ranging from 10% to 100%, additionally the VA had a 0% rating where the Vet received no monthly checks yet still could get medical treatment from the VA for a disability received through his or her military service. The basic monthly compensation for the VA Vet runs from $123 (10% Disability) to $2,673 (100% Disability). This monthly amount for compensation can be higher if the Vet has met certain criteria.
The VA once offered a 0% disability rating, at least that is what the VA Representative told me in 1988. The 0% disability rating supposedly covered the Vet for medical, but it did not allow the vet to receive monthly compensation for his or her illness or injury… however the 0% disability mostly acknowledged that the Vet had a problem but it wasn’t severe enough for compensation at this moment in time.
The VA also had a program where the Disabled Vet would retain his or her disability rating, but he or she could receive a monthly compensation check equal to a 100% disability rating.
Additionally the VA does have a program for Vets with 70% or higher disability ratings that can no longer work. If a disabled vet has a 70% disability rating, he or she could be declared “Unemployable” and receive a 100% disability rating from the VA. This may, or may not, be the same program as the one described in the paragraph above.
Other Benefits Provided By The VA
The VA offers other benefits to its Veterans that meet the criteria set by the VA. In addition to Medical or Compensation and Pensions, the Vet can receive such benefits as:
Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment
Education & Training
Dependent & Survivor Benefits
The Vet has to meet certain criteria for many of the benefits that they can receive… and quite often there are time limits set as a part of the eligibility for these benefits. In some cases the VA doesn’t actually offer the benefit, such as the Home Loan Benefit, but rather they offer the backing for participating banks and financial institutions to provide the loan for a lower rate.
VA and Vocational Rehab
The VA does have a Vocational Rehabilitation Program (commonly referred to as “Vocational Rehab” or “VR&E”), but there are conditions that go along with this program. I realize that some may wish to argue these points with me, but what I say comes from first hand experience.
The first drawback is that the VA Vocational Rehab has a time limit of 12 years from the date of the Vet being discharged or was contacted by the VA about their the disability. When the time limit runs out it may be possible to get the VA to waiver the time limit… but it’s not an easy task to get done. The VA has rules like this for a reason and even though you or I might disagree with their reasoning… rules are rules.
The 2nd drawback is that like all Vocational Rehab programs, the VA Vocational Rehab Program is set up for the younger vets. When a Vet gets to be about 40 or 50 years of age, the VA tries to shy the vet away from the VR&E program. This may not be a part of any VA Regulation or Law governing the VA, but it has happened in the past. The odd part is that as unfair as this seems, it really does make sense to guide the younger disabled vets into a vocational rehab program first for they would be the ones to get the most use out of such programs.
A Few Facts And Figures About The VA
According to the VA there are (approximately) 25 million Veterans alive and nearly 3/4s of them during “War” or “Official Period of Hostility”. The VA also states that about ¼ of the nation’s population are potentially eligible for VA Benefits due to the fact that these people are Veterans, family members or survivors of Veterans. The VA is an organization designed for the long-term assistance for the Veteran of the US Military and their dependents. It is said that there are still 2 children of Veterans from the U.S. Civil War still alive that are on the VA rosters.
According to WikiAnswers we find out that “There are 257,100 (100% disabled veterans as of 12/31/07).
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs”. WikiAnswers also states “With more than 1.4 million members, Disabled American Veterans is an organization of disabled veterans who are focused on building better lives for disabled veterans and their families.”
According to the United Cerebal Palsey website “Each year, in service to our nation, thousands of former military personnel join the ranks of disabled veterans. Overall, there are approximately 2.5 million disabled veterans. Disabled veterans represent a rich talent pool that is too often overlooked.”
So what can we glean from these facts? We learn that about ¼ of the US Population (about 70 million people at the time the information was written) are eligible for VA Benefits, but only about 25 million Vets are still alive. That would mean that about 45 Million of those eligible for benefits are survivors or dependents of vets and deceased vets. Now out of those 25 Million Vets we are told that about 2.5 Million of them are disabled… and about 257,100 of them are 100% disabled. Up-dated figures dealing with these figures are more than welcome, but I urge everyone to document their claims with a proper source to be checked for accuracy of the claim.
Our Debt To The Disabled Vet
Our Veterans deserve the same considerations that are given to its civilian counterparts. Let’s look at it in this manner, if an civilian employer hires a civilian worker and that civilian worker is injured at work, or receives some illness due to the working conditions… then the civilian would expect the employer to take responsibility and provide for any medical needs and compensation for the disability. Normally, in the civilian world, the compensation and medical needs are supplied from such places as Workers (or Workman’s) Comp, or Social Security Disability (SSDI) and any insurance that the employer has… but just because these agencies and outside groups are involved, that doesn’t mean that the Employer isn’t responsible for taking care of the employee.
Where the Military and Veteran are concerned, we find that the ‘employer” is US Government. The government assumes the responsibilities of caring for its employees who become disabled just like any business owner. If their employees are injured or made sick due to the jobs they are ordered to do, the US Government (i.e. us) carry the burden of taking care of these people until such a time that care is no longer needed. If the injuries or illness is severe enough to make the service member disabled, then the US Government is responsible to cover the expenses for medical care and fair compensation for the disability. It’s as simple as that and it doesn’t matter if we don’t support the military or the things the military are ordered to do… The US Government is still responsible to those who become disabled while in their employment, as well as those who become disabled from things that happened while the person was employed in the armed forces. This means that we all share a part of that responsibility due to the fact that it is our tax dollars used to take care of the disabled vet.
The real question isn’t whether the Government, i.e. US, owes it to the disabled vet to take care of them for their service-connected disabilities… the proper question is how much is owed to the Vet?
The VA: Funding and Problems
VA Budget and Budget Requests
In February of 2008, the requested budget for the VA was approximately $93.7 Billion. (Source: FY 09 VA Budget Requests Highlights). According to an article entitled “Fiscal 2009 VA, DOD DHS Appropriation Enacted”, it is said:
“The fiscal 2009 discretionary VA funding portion of H.R. 2638 totals $47.6 billion, $4.5 billion more than fiscal 2008 totals and $2.8 billion more than the president’s request.”
The $93.7 Billion budget request by the VA includes $40 billion for health care, $46.9 billion for benefits, and $230 million for the national cemetery system. This is more than a 7 percent increase from the department’s $87.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2009.
Problems with the Veterans Administration
Since it’s beginning there have been problems with the VA, some of its problems were due to administration, other problems were due to budgeting, and some problems were due to a VA not having the better doctors and nurses. It has been noted time and again that not all VA systems are created equal, in some cases veterans have found that they received better service and treatment by changing the VA hospital or clinic that they dealt with in their own state… other veterans noted that the VA System in some states were better than the VA in other states. Although every VA should be equal and use the same laws and guidelines, it seems that those rules and policies are not handled the same from VA to VA.
Let’s be fair to the VA, for it’s a huge organization. Time changes things and the VA changes with time. Veterans who remember poorer treatment at certain VA Facilities in the past may find if they return to the facility today then things may be much better. On the other hand today’s Vets may find that the treatment they receive by the VA may not be as promised. Let’s look a few examples that I call “Case Studies” to provide a clearer picture of what I mean.
Case 1: A Veteran on the VA system with a heart condition that was judged as being “service connected” by both the military and the VA for over 20 years suddenly found that the VA began refusing to pay the bills incurred by the Disabled Vet for his visits to an Emergency Room at a local hospital. The reason the Vet went to the local hospital in the first place was due to the fact that the VA Doctors knew the importance of the Vet getting ‘immediate treatment’ for his Tachycardia spells that are attributed to his “Service connected” conditions. The Doctors made it clear to the Vet that he was not go to the local VA Hospital because it was too far to travel under such conditions and he was to go to the local hospital that was only a few miles from the Vet’s residence. Additionally the VA did allow the Vet to go to the local hospitals for treatment under the condition that the local hospital ER would call the VA prior to their doing anything but emergency treatment for the patient. When the Emergency Room Staff would call the VA, the doctors at the VA Hospital would find out what the situation was and how the Vet was responding to the emergency treatment… then tell the local hospital to “treat him and send him home”. In the early 2000s that all changed. At the beginning of the change the VA would use the excuse that the patient did not call the VA with-in 72 hours after going to the local hospital Emergency Room, despite the fact that the local Emergency Room staff led the Vet to believe that they did their job (as requested by the Vet numerous times during his stay in the hospital) by calling the VA. As time went on the VA simply used the excuse that a VA Hospital was in the area. When the VA Doctors were approached they simply responded by saying “Then go to the VA Hospital” as if just because some admin personnel at the VA knew more about the ‘immediate need of the medical condition’ than the doctor treating the Vet. This did not help the Vet because he now was responsible for paying the local hospital for following “Doctor’s Orders” and it made it more difficult on the Vet because when he would tell the paramedics who came out to his home because of these Tachycardia spells to take him all the way into the VA… they would say “We can do that, but you really should go to the local hospital”. The patient who’s heart rate has been beating at speeds in excess of 180 beats per minute for over an hour at this point would tire out and relent going where the ambulance drivers wanted to take him.
Case 2: Another Disabled Vet on the VA system had a condition that became so bad that he no longer could work at all. The Vet contacted the VA and filed the paperwork that he was told to file. He waited patiently for the VA to raise his disability appropriately, expecting it to take only 6 months. The VA then let it be known that there was something wrong with the paperwork and the vet needed to file again for the rate increase. It is now over 2 years later and the VA is no closer to settling the claim than it was 6 months after the paperwork was filed.
Case 3: A third VA Veteran lived in a rural place and found that the VA he went to did not handle his disability properly, after months of receiving unsatisfactory treatment he went to another VA Facility in another part of his state. The trip was a little longer for him, but the improvement in handling his case was worth the extra miles that he traveled.
Case 4: A VA Veteran who argued that the money he received from the military when discharged was for medical and therefore non-taxable finally received a notice by the VA that a court ruling made 5 years after his discharge declared that the type of severance pay he received was in fact non-taxable. The court ruled that anyone who paid taxes on their severance pay could get the taxes they paid returned – if they contacted the IRS within 2 years after the ruling. The problem was that the notification was sent out to the Vet by the VA only two or three days before the expiration date of the ruling and the Vet received the notice on the day the ruling expired. The VA never assumed any responsibility for the Vet losing almost $2,000 that rightfully belonged to him and did offer him information of who to contact to resolve the problem. The Vet ended up never getting his money from the US Government because the Senators for his state would not send in a simply letter to the IRS asking for them to pay this Vet.
Case 5: A VA Vet quit his job in one city to move to the city where his elderly parents lived for the purpose of helping his parents. Prior to moving the Vet foolishly made a few phone calls to a few places in the city he was to move asking about getting a job. The reply he received was “There should be no problem in hiring someone of your experience. When you get here simply come in and put in an application”. Very foolish of the Vet, but the Vet figured that since he didn’t really allow the time to send out resumes and await responses and that he was going to move anyway… then an area of several million people should provide some type of employment. So the Vet moved only to find out when the future employers found out that the Vet had a disability, suddenly there were no jobs available or there was someone ‘better suited” to the job. The business owners never stated that the Vet was not hired because of his disability, because that is against the law, but other reasons were given that didn’t always apply. When the Vet finally exhausted his avenues for employment over 10 years later, he went to the VA and was told “Don’t tell them about your condition.” That was bad advice because these employers need information for their healthcare providers and if the Vet ‘lied’ about his condition by the act of omission then the Vet could be fired.
What Does The Disabled Vet Expect?
To speak on behalf of all disabled vets is an impossible task due to every vet having his or her own ideas and expectations concerning the VA, however we can outline some of the most common things vets have said over the years.
The first thing that I would say the disabled vet wants and expects is respect. The disabled vet does not want to be treated with false sincerity or false promises, nor do they want to be viewed as a leach upon society or a person looking for a free ride. The disabled vet simply wants to be given what they deserve.
The disabled veteran is not some alien from outer space nor is he or she something created in a laboratory, the disabled vet is our neighbor, friend, or family member who went into the military because they were called to duty or volunteered and while in the service of our country something happened that caused them an illness or injury. The fact is that some civilian knows a disabled vet for they grew up with the person or are related to them in some way.
As an employee the disabled vet deserves compensation and medical care for the service connected illness and/or injury that was thrust upon them. Disabled Veteran are getting the benefits they receive not because they are too lazy to work, want to live off the government or taxpayer, or the government wants to treat the disabled vet differently from his or her civilian counterparts… the disabled vet deserve the benefits they get because of numerous reasons. The true fact is that many vets who would rather not have to live with their disabilities and would prefer to live normal lives… but they can’t because of whatever disability they received while in the service of our country. It’s not a life choice for the person who is a disabled vet, it was not their lifelong dream to become disabled and have to depend upon such organizations as the VA to have some semblance of a normal life.
The disabled vet should be respected for what he or she has given up and has to go through on a daily basis… just as any person with a disability deserves. They don’t deserve to be put down because someone doesn’t believe in the military or war. A person doesn’t have to like or respect the disabled vet on an individual basis, being a disabled vet doesn’t make a person a saint or hero, but generally speaking the disabled vet should be respected as a group.
Another thing the disabled vet wants is ‘security’. They want the peace of mind that they, and their families, can maintain the basic necessities of life. They want to not have to worry about keeping a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and clothing on their backs because their disability limits them in some way. On the whole they don’t demand to live in lavish lifestyles, but they do want to be able to raise their families in a moderately decent lifestyle.
Medical Care and Medicines
The disabled vet wants and needs proper medical care and they want that care to be done in a timely manner. They don’t want required medicines or medical treatments to be unavailable simply because the taxpayer or congress doesn’t want to approve the funding that the VA needs to provide the care needed and fulfill its mission. In particular the disabled vet doesn’t want some doctor to tell them how important it is to have some treatment or handle some episode caused by the disability only to have some desk jockey at the VA denying paying for the necessary medical care. Many vets have expressed the desire to have people in the various administration positions at the VA who understands the needs of the disabled vet, instead of some college grad who never even spent a tour of duty in the military (let alone have no disabilities themselves).
The doctors at the VA should tell the accountants what is required for a disabled vet, not vice-versa. Many disabled vets realize the need for a system of Checks and Balances; they believe that a panel of doctors ought to approve requests for special treatment of a condition. If a procedure or operation is required, then if that procedure is not a commonly accepted thing done by the VA… the medical opinion of the doctor should carry a lot of weight in the approval process.
Additionally the disabled vet doesn’t want to be subjected to unnecessary hardships put in place by some desk jockey who don’t comprehend the needs of the disabled vet or the needs of some medical conditions. The veteran shouldn’t be expected to travel excessively in the case of a medical emergency and the VA should get the backing to force the local hospitals into notifying the VA as soon as a patient arrives at the emergency room of a local hospital. The need of making the local hospitals realize that they cannot turn down a patient requiring emergency treatment and the need to contact the VA for instructions for the disabled vet under the threat of the hospital having to eat it’s costs for not properly following protocol may be a necessity for helping the disabled vet. This is nothing any different than the requirements of some healthcare programs out there and if we can do it for health insurance companies then we can do it for our vets.
Compensation and Benefits
The disabled vet should receive fair and just compensation and benefits. Unless the disabled vet is completely disabled and/or unable to work, then he or she does not expect huge compensation checks every month… however the disabled vet may not argue much over getting the money, they are human after all. Mainly the disabled vet wants to feel useful, like most other disabled citizens, many would actually prefer being able to get the help needed to be able to become self-supportive again. Some actually may prefer loans to start businesses than be given a hand out.
The disabled vet does not want to sit around for months or years waiting on some admin personnel to decide his or her fate. If the VA has the policy to settle a claim in 180 days or a year then that is what the vet expects. He or she may wish to have his or her claim settled in less time, but the vet would like to have the claim processed and approved in a timely manner. Quite often the disabled vet can understand the fact that things take a little longer than projected, after all they have spent several years in the military and are accustomed to the ‘hurry up and wait’ mentality. The disabled vet can’t understand why it takes the VA 2 ½ to 3 years (or longer) to settle claims or approve medical treatments or procedures.
Education and Retraining
The disabled vet has the tendency to want to feel normal and useful. The vet may realize that a Vocational Rehabilitation program is best utilized for the younger disabled vets, but the older disabled vet would still like help in finding jobs or getting started in a business in order to be gainfully employed. Some vets may like a program that gives discounts for schooling or retraining, while others would like to have someone associated with the VA to help them in locating new employment. The disabled vet often realizes such things take money and the government is not a bottomless money pit, but the disabled vet finds it hard to understand the fact that the government has the money to fund many things that aren’t really the responsibility of the government to fund.
Fairness And Equal Treatment For All Vets
In the military it has been said that there are no black, brown, yellow or white people – everyone is green. The same idea of equality should extend to the disabled vet. There should be no programs based upon race, color, religion or sex. There is cause to believe that qualifications for certain programs should be based on age and the rating of the disabled vet. Additionally there should be no other preference for approval of a disabled vet’s claim or application other than ‘first come, first served’. The practice of fast tracking the applications and claims of an Iraqi Vet or Vietnam Vet is unfair, the applications and claims should be approved based solely upon when the disabled vet filed the application or claim. It’s just as unfair to make a Vietnam Vet wait because someone serving in Afghanistan or Iraq filed an application after the Vietnam Vet filed as it is to fast track the application of a person because of sex or color. Proper funding of the VA would limit the necessity of fast tracking such applications and claims.
The VA is said to have requested a budget of $93.7 billion dollars. The average person may think that this sounds like a lot of money, but consider the fact that a huge part of the VA Budget is to take care of the medical needs of the disabled veterans under its care. The money allotted to the VA must not only pay for medicine and medical treatment, but it also has to pay for the building and care of numerous hospitals and clinics – as well as the equipment required to have a functioning hospital or clinic. In Ron Anderson’s article “Factors Associated With The Increasing Cost Of Hospital Care”, it is said:
“In the last two decades, and particularly in the last five years, the cost of hospital care has risen more rapidly than the cost of almost any other major good or service pro vided in our society. The result has been great concern among the public, government, and providers of service. The rising total cost of hospital care is due both to the increasing use of hospital services and to the increasing cost per unit of these services. In the last ten years, use of services has accounted for less than one-eighth of the total increase in hospital costs, cost per unit increases being responsible for the rest. The latter increases can be shown to result from general inflationary trends in the economy plus certain forces acting in a special way on hospitals. These forces include an increase in wages, a rise in the value of hospital plant and equipment over and above general inflation, and a larger number of personnel in relation to the days of patient care provided, or patient days. A review of reasons for the increases in cost per unit of service suggests that there is no single factor primarily responsible. Consequently, a solution to the cost containment problem will be difficult to achieve.”
Steve Hymon’s article in the LA Times, entitled “Start Up Costs Drive Up Hospital Price Tag” says:
“The start-up costs for the hospital, whose construction expenses alone are expected to top $800 million, may add as much as $240.5 million to the price tag. The problem is, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has yet to put aside any money to cover the extra costs.
The medical records system will cost up to $100 million, said David E. Janssen, the county’s chief administrative officer. Furnishings, including portable medical equipment, could cost $105.2 million — twice the price that county officials estimated in 1998. Moving from the old hospital could chew up an additional $35 million.”
Then you have to figure in the salaries of Doctors, Nurses, Technicians, Administrative personnel, and other employees of the VA. There are also costs for medicines and supplies to consider, as well as such things as mail costs and other things we never consider. The point is when one looks at the costs to build and maintain hospitals and clinics, one sees that it is an expensive proposition… suddenly a hundred million or a billion isn’t as much money as one would think it was at first.
However we still need to consider the disabled vet, it’s not his or her fault (usually) that they suffer from the disability that was inflicted upon them. They entered the military in good condition and good faith; as a result they ended up with a condition that made them disabled. They need to be taken care of and taken care of in such a way that doesn’t cause them undue hardships. The Disabled Vet may require such services as paramedics and ambulances, plus they may need to be reimbursed for any return trip from the hospital to their place of residence. The disabled vet may also need emergency treatment as soon as humanly possible, which means the travel time to such care for the disabled vet should be as little as possible. Disabled vets who suffer from strokes, Tachycardia, heart attack and other ailments need to be treated fast and to demand that a disabled vet has to go to a hospital miles away simply because it’s a VA Hospital is ridiculous – especially if there are hospitals much closer. If the condition being treated is service connected, the VA should be responsible for paying the bills no matter what hospital or clinic the vet is treated. The excuse that the VA has a hospital in the area is a bad excuse, especially if the hospital is 30 or 50 miles away from where the disabled vet resides. It is also a bad excuse to deny paying for emergency treatment because the disabled vet didn’t notify the VA with in 72 hours. Quite often the vet depended on the local hospital to contact the VA, as it should have done, and when the vet finds out the hospital either lied or misled the patient into thinking they did make the contact – it’s often beyond the time period for contacting the VA.
So there are problems with the VA and many of those problems are rooted in funding. What may seem to be stupid policies are often policies set to help reduce costs in order for the VA to keep with in a budget.