For many military personnel and their loved ones, the approach to discharge and the end of military service can be—at the least—a relief. However, to those soldiers who have suffered injury while serving, the prospect of dealing with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is less than exciting.
The VA has clinics across the country and is responsible for providing healthcare, financial assistance, military funeral arrangements and other related services to veterans and their dependents. In early 2014, problems with the functionality of the VA were brought to national attention. CNN reported that at least 40 veterans had died while awaiting medical treatment in Arizona, prompting President Obama to order an internal investigation. The effects of the Obama Administration’s intervention will take time to manifest.
The most prevalent issue plaguing veterans who apply for aid through the VA is the time they must wait before receiving assistance. When an application is submitted, the claim travels through a series of steps, which involve the gathering and examination of evidence that an injury or disability was caused by the individual’s military service. Some have reported waiting more than a year for the process to be completed. Yet simply receiving approval for benefits does not always mean that the waiting game is over. Despite the numerous VA-operated clinics across the country, many veterans wait at least a month to see a doctor after requesting an appointment, despite a policy that states patients must be seen within 30 days of the request.
According to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the VA is suffering from widespread mismanagement. In at least 12 states, high-ranking officials overseeing the local operation of VA facilities have received bonuses despite an increase in the number of backlogged claims they are receiving. In some instances, bonuses were paid in spite of incidences in which numerous preventable deaths have occurred or improper medical practices led to the spread of blood-borne illnesses among patients. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office performed a study, which found that bonuses paid to VA doctors did not have a link to performance.
Another factor cited as a contributor to the long wait times is a shortage of doctors. One study by the Medicus Firm found that government employment ranks as the least appealing to most doctors, as opposed to employment at a hospital or operating a private practice.
As with any large government organization, there is no single quick fix to the problems within the VA, and it will likely come down to a massive overhaul of the command structure of the VA. Disciplining, rather than rewarding, those who allow the system to remain inefficient, and even to worsen, seems like it would be a good place to start.