Sequestration, VA cuts and the Backlog

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Sequestration, VA cuts and the Backlog

Some things came up in our daily clips today that are worrisome.

First, this Defense News article:

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a diverse group of more than two-dozen CEOs continued discussions of how $500 billion in cuts to military spending would impact the defense industry and DoD and potential courses of action Congress might take to avert the reductions.

The number of attendees and broad range of areas they represent — such as prime contractors, subcontractors, hardware manufacturers and service contractors — is significant, defense observers said.

“It really was representative of the entire industrial base that supports the Department of Defense,” said one source who attended the meeting.

Well, I didn't see anyone listed there who has a vested (in the true sense of the word) interest in keeping military retirement benefits stable.  You have a large swath of people who represent one slice of the pie from the acquisitions side, but I don't see anyone from the other slice of the pie representing us.

Meanwhile, even outside the DoD budget there are some fears that the VA may get hit with Sequestration cuts (from Politico):

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki are  set to testify on Capitol Hill on WedneWednesday about the steps they’re taking to work better together....

“Conveniently this week,” Miller pointed out, “the president declared ‘veterans’ benefits’ are exempt in a speech before a group of veterans, but his  own acting OMB (Office of Management and Budget) director, Jeffrey Zients, has  stated that VA may face sequestration under current law. Which is it?”

Miller said he was determined to “get an answer once and for all and assure  our veterans they are still a priority to this nation.”

This isn't a new concern for The American Legion that took us by surprise, we've been addressing this issue since it first came up.  Look at what we wrote back in April:

OMB also determined that VA’s exemption was unaffected by subsequent provisions in the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, which failed to include Veterans’ Medical Care in its list of VA accounts exempted from sequestration.

The letter, written by OMB Deputy General Counsel Steven D. Aitken, answers a question raised by The American Legion some time ago: Will VA be protected from sequestration, or will its budget suddenly be cut by billions of dollars?

"It appears on the face of it that this is a victory in ensuring that our nation’s veterans and the VA budget are protected," said Fang A. Wong, National Commander of The American Legion. "However, we are concerned about a reference to VA’s ‘federal administrative expenses’ that are apparently not covered in the exemption. What costs are covered in this category, and how would cuts in these affect VA’s ability to provide quality care?"

Meanwhile, Secretary Shinseki spoke at the VFW yesterday and had this to say in a Army Times article:

The rising mountain of veterans’ disability claims isn’t the sign of a dysfunctional government, but of one that has greatly expanded the number of people it is trying to help, Veterans Affairs Department secretary Eric Shinseki said Tuesday.

Appearing before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in an election-year address aimed at showing the best side of the Obama administration’s policies, Shinseki said the total inventory of veterans’ claims was 400,000 when the administration began and is about 880,000 today.

The growth, he said, “is what happens when we increase access.” While it has meant some veterans are waiting longer for their benefits to start, “it was the right thing to do,” he said

I actually agree that more people in the system is a sign of success in terms of getting the word out and such, but if we're worried about the size of the pie in the first place, adding more slices doesn't help.  Enrolling more veterans is always a good thing, but wouldn't you think that since this was an earned benefit of having served honorably that the size of the pie would grow proportionally? 

Hopefully we'll feel a little better after the Congressional hearing.  Reassuring the VA Committee that they will be totally immune to cuts from Sequestration would go a long way towards alleviating some of the anxiety.



Posted in the burner | 23 comments
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"Reassuring the VA Committee that they will be totally immune to cuts from Sequestration would go a long way towards alleviating some of the anxiety." (from the article) Yes this would be great but considering the current Senate and it total unwillingness to even craft and pass a budget in the past three years I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for Congress or the Administration to protect the nation's veterans. Regardless of which party holds the majority, history demonstrates that for Congress to remember to protect the veterans that protect this nation requires those veterans and the veterans’ organizations representing them must fight for that protection every year without fail. Nothing has appreciably changed in this situation since the creation of The American Legion. With this in mind, every veteran needs to contact their Senators and Representatives and apply pressure to keep the VA fully funded, as the President has promised, and not use a back-door approach to reducing the funding for the VA.

Robert Ireland (PUFL)

I have two claims approve at 60% each, plus my hearing is 30% plua three other small claims, and they are telling me IO am holding at 90%. this I donot understand, why? some one help me, please I am in desert hot spring California.

I am in the same percentile as you are. I was 70%PTSD/unemployable. Most veterans don't know that the 70 % PTSD is only applicable to you going bonkers and maybe shooting up the world or something that crazed. If you go to a civilian hospital and it is a problem having to do with another type of sickness, you might be held accountable/liabel for the visit.
I went and redid my because I am dead to right sure that my problems stem from 3 tours in Vietnam and if it was an emergency and I had to go to a civilian hospital I wasn't going to put my wife through any financial burden if I didn't make it.
I applied for every single problem I have and have had since I came back.
I was denied my kidney, which was removed, cancer due to carcinogen/toication AO because my other kidney that I have left has not developed cancer yet. So I'll have to wait until my other kidney gets cancer before I get re-evaluated. (DUH !). I was denied my pancreatic insufficiency because I brought my alcoholism upon myself and the alcohol destroyed my pancreas. (how stupid is that? My alcoholism was due to my service in Vietnam (I was a demolition Marine). I saw plenty of hamburger meat. I had bad dreams and had problems dealing with people. I didn't and don't care to associate with anyone. I like my solidarity.
I got 10 percent for diabetes type II miletus, 60 percent for my stomach problems, 10 percent for heart ischemia and 70 percent for PTSD. Total that up and it goes to 150% individual total. But since 100 % is the limit I got set up as 90% Unemployable=100% for my rating.
Sorry for the long explanation but maybe you are in the same category.

Semper Fi, what time periods were you in Vietnam? I am former GySGT. Bob Presley

9thMarExpBrig Apr 6 65 with 1/3BLT I was in Oki in 64 then our advance team from 3rdEngBn"A" Co flew in with elements of 1/3 on Mar 7 65 from Kadena on C-130s. They set up toward hill 327 on the old french compound and then we followed. Operation Starlight and other search and destroys with various grunt outfits. Delta 1/3, 2/3,1/1. I was with Alpha 1/1 when I got my heart in Sept of 65, Lost 6 Engineers on hill 22 when it got overrun Oct 30th of 65. Lost a good friend. Lost 3 friends in Aug of 65. I was on hill 41 the night 22 got overrun but the gooks hit us with mortars and probed our lines as well while they overran 22. But you know how the gooks worked. We got to hill 22 to help secure it but the gooks had left by then. rotated back to the world in Nov 65. was at El Toro after leave until June 66. left for Camp Pendleton to form a Bridge outfit. Went over to Nam in Sept of 66 (on the same ship I went to Oki in 64) USS Sultan. Got to Nam but I was not cut out to be a bridgeman so I transferred to Charlie 7th Engrs 1smt MarDiv. Worked with 5th and 7th Marines until Jan 68. Left from Hue (before tet) matter of fact we put up a pontoon bridge to cross hiway 1 towards Phu Bai just before I left Hue. Got back home on leave. Mar 68 Went back to Nam with 3rd Engrs and back to my old stomping grounds. Rear was Quang Tri. worked from A Shau Valley to A1 Cua Viet with 3rd Marines, 4th Marines, 9th Marines and 26th Marines. God I miss the adrenolin rush. Rotated from Vandegrift (Rock Pile) Cbt Base in Apr of 69. Went on leave, went to Pendleton and wanted to go back to Nam but was refused by my top with 13thEngrs. He thought I had a death wish,,,,,yea, right.
Completed my 7yrs. (I had re-upped in Nam for taxes sake). Got married while at Pendleton and my AO became the NCO club at area 14. I loved the Corps but my wife gave me an ultimatum. Her and our son or the Corps. She said she was tired of my drinking. So I didn't want anybody but me raising my kid so I got out. It wasn't too bad. I carpentered for a year, took the PO exam and got hired all within a year after I got out of the Corps. I was a good Engineer Marine. I would have made it to SgtMaj. I knew my craft and had confidence in myself. I was that good. I even got lauded for my knowledge of the 1375 field by Brig Gen Ross T. Dyer Base Commander in 70. or early 71, I forget.
Semper Fi Brother and welcome home

This VA problem is very simple to solve. DON'T CREATE NEW WARS OR CONFLICTS !!

They do not add the way you think (or I), They do a 60% from 100%,leaving 40% then the 2nd 60% is 60% of 40%, then any other claims 10%,20% etc, is from the balance of the 60% from the 40%. I have 6 categories that add up to 220%, and am only @ 90% something. I know it confusing, but it is the way they do it. 10% may only end up 1-2% after a few claims.

could not agree more with you God Bless and thanks for your service

I am afraid of the Doctors in the VA System, like I have a choice! they took me in on a saturday and performed a surgery on my left elbow, keep me in the hospital for five days, and a doctor came in, she was very pretty and told me they made a mistake and i was in the hospital needlessly. they also put in to my chest a pick line for drugs that they were going to give and that I had to take for 6 weeks. I got mad, took out the pick line myself, got dress and left the hospital. my god what is wrong ?

here we go again treat the vets who fight and fought for your freedoms like a mushroom, keep them in the dark and feed them manure and treat them worse than any illegal immigrant

I have nothing but good to say as they have saved my life at leat 3 times. Erie,Pa operated on my cancer is 09 and when my wife passed,I left Penna to live in Calif. again. The VA at Loma Linda ,Ca.has operated on my cancer 2 more times and they give me very good care. Thank y'all for your service and I for one thank the VA doctors. Without them,I wouldnt be here. Sincerely Terry

The care I am receiving at Capt Lovell FHC North Chicago is the best I have ever had from either VA or Military! I did a 20 year career 90% outside the USA. Claims, I volunteer with a retired Marine at FFSO Naval Station Gt Lakes, yes the system is a bit slow so are we. What about a clear concise claim(period) no add ons or later changes it may fly in 90 days. I am rated at 80% with one to go which may make 90% I do not breath Chemicals not smoking, Spinal damage RVN, Mellitius and PTSD Neuriopathy and some others if you do the math this is correct if I were missing two limbs for example yes it would be 100. Come on folks read your statement and do the math the same for CRSC our office soes that as well and the same math applies. It is fair.

Every private practioner I visited only wanted to sell me some very expensive invasive diagnostic medical tests and furnish no medical answers. One trip to Joanathan Waynright VA and I had answers and treatment.

Thank you VA

OUTSTANDING patint care, infection control and customer service. It has been really a pleasure to be treated at NAshville VA Medical Center. BRAVO BRAVO to the hospital Director JUAN MORALES and his entire hospital staff from Cleaning to Chief of Staff.

I would like to thank the doctors here at bugget works va center! I'am a twenty four year retired Frist Sergent,INF. Body is in pretty bad shape,I thank GOD for The Doctors at this va clinc.Thanks for the support from the bottom of my heart!

Don't blame the VA Hospital for the administration problems that the VA on the claims side has. A lot of veterans that I run across at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque NM complain alot about the services they get. I have been a patient of the Hospital in El Paso Tx and Albuquerque since my initial AO exam in 1977. From there to the present I have been treated fairly and with respect. If you are rated at 100% you will get treated as such. If you have a lower rating that goes as well. Don't expect what the benefit won't allow.
I want to say that the best VA Hospital in the Nation is Albuquerque NM. It is well maintained and kept very clean.

Mr. Steuber, I have to agree with you 100% on your comment and I say this because at the VA Clinic here in Ft. Myers, FL., this place has lots of room for improvement and needs this improvement ASAP from top to bottom. I have been going to this facility for a couple of years now and I have watched it go downhill. From day one I have had problems with the doctors in regards to my care. At a prior facility I was receiving treatment for a back condition and requested to receive the same care at this facility and the first thing out of the doctors mouth was I don’t do that, meaning he wasn’t going to continue my prior method of treatment. He was quiet adamant about it to the point I had to go to the clinics administration to complain. While I was in administration complaining about the doctor I requested to have my doctor changed which happened. When I got my first appointment with my new doctor Dr. Raju she asked me what had happened and I explained that my other doctor refused to give me medical treatment and all I was requesting was an intra muscular injection and she said that’s not how I treat my patients and if you don’t like that you can change doctors. WOW! I just met this doctor and I was being treated as a threat, some bed side manners. Let me fast forward, we veterans get treated as though we are problematic as though some may be but not all of us. At this particular clinic I have seen a breakdown of proper managerial skills from Administration right through the Patient Advocate and there is a perception of professionalism but all that is nothing but smoke and mirrors a cheap magician’s trick. People who work at this facility need to step up their game and give us Vets the treatment we have earned. The employees need to understand we earned the right to be treated with dignity and respect at any VA Medical Center it is not a privilege it is a right for every Veteran to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity and the wildcards will be treated accordingly. If the employees have forgotten these fundamental rules then they need to be retrained and have annual refresher courses so they will not forget who the individuals are that are walking through their front doors, they are Veterans who served their Country our Country. And if you are an employee having a bad hair day then you need to check it at the front door and pick it up on the way home. VA Fort Myers Florida you need to check your game plan and attitudes there are a few bad seeds making it look bad for the rest of you. And for the doctors, you are professionals and you are charged with the well being of all veterans from their physical needs to their mental needs and you’re supposed to do it with the utmost respect for your profession. You as doctors have to recall your hypocritical oath and reflect upon why you became doctors and not only doctors but doctors in the VA.

I wish all of you could come to a Regional Office and see what is done there. We all work hard to get the veteran the most benefits we can. Problems with the VA Benefits stems from two places, Congress and the Central Office in DC; both of which ties our hands on policies and procedures. Add to the mix that they keep changing the way we do things about every six months and we're so understaffed its pathetic. Most of us leave work everyday feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because we can't get the veteran's served properly.

Thank you for your service Pam. I hear this frequently from VA benefits employees. However, it is frustrating to me to hear that the VA claims process is so understaffed.

I have a bachelor's degree in nursing, disability that is service connected and I work with a service dog who performs tasks to mitigate my disabilities. I interview well telephonically and between my education, licensure and over 2 decades of nursing experience, I qualify for many VA healthcare and VA benefits jobs. Unfortunately, once they see me with my service dog at the second interview, I never get called back for a third interview or offered a job. I have been rated top block as an officer and exceptionally as a civilian. I want to work and so do a lot of unemployed veterans. Instead, I face discrimination in my job everyday and in the VA's hiring practices.

To add fuel to the fire, I am at 604 days in the VA claims process (02 Dec 2010) and my claim is still not adjudicated. The customer service sucks. Here are some examples I have encountered this week:

1. You call the 1-800 number and after going through multiple menus and holds, you are offered a call back time for a week later.
2. You log in to Ebenefits and it tells you very little information.
3. You ask a question to and if you request an e-mail reply, you may hear back in 5 business days and it is the same vague reply.
4. How about I call the VA Regional office in Wichita? Oh wait, I cannot call it directly, I have to call the 1-800 number and I already told you how that goes.
5. How about I contact my VSO? She checks some VA system she has access to and tells me that VA is "developing for records". "What the heck does that mean?", I ask. It will be a couple more month before I get a final decision, she says.

If Veterans Benefits Administration were a business, they would be out of business because they have so many unhappy customers. How is it that if I need public assistance benefits, I can be receiving those entitlements within the month, perhaps within a week or two, but if I am a disabled veteran who served their country with honor and distinction during a time of war, I am waiting over 600 days for a final answer on service connection. Then what if the answer is wrong? The veteran is stuck a few more years in an Appeal.

Applied for VA medical care via the county veteran service office on Monday 23 July and on 28 July received a letter informing me of my doctor's appointment Monday 20 Aug. at 9:00 am. at the VA medical center. Pretty prompt and efficient service if you ask me.

VA Veteran Service Representatives (the people who send you those letters) are held to a strict points system. They only allotted a certain amount of time to work each case. The number of points they are required to work in each day depends on their pay grade. If VA employees do not make their points the can be put on reviews and eventually fired. The VA has set in place a QUOTA system to process veterans claims which inhibits employees from taking the time necessary to reviewing cases, reviewing medical evidence, writing letters, etc for all claims for disability, aid and attendance, special monthly compensation, etc. It doesnt matter if a claim with one contention or claim with 25 contentions VSRs get the same amount of credit for working it. Employees dont have time to call Vets and clarify because they can write a precanned letter faster so they can move onto the next claim. Employees are discouraged from making waves because they will lose their job. Senior Management will tell you "they will get back to you" or talk to you offline" or "its out of my hands" SOME EMPLOYEES" are forced to work mandatory overtime on weekends only. Mandated training for VSRs is often years old and outdated. The majority of VA employees are veterans and do care and want to help but the system and managers that the Veterans Affairs has put in place is all wrong. Morale is very low and people are scared of losing their jobs. Instead of treating vets like numbers we should treat them with respect and give them the time and quality service they deserve.

I am always hearing about how bad the VA system is. I have been using the service for 12 years and I have had only one bad experience and that was before I started going. I marked it off as a man having a bad day. All my experiences with the VA have been in a simple word "super." I know for a fact that the personnel at the Dorn VA Hospital and Veteran Affairs in Columbia, SC do everything possible to help the hundreds of thousands that go their the system yearly.
Many of the folks that have a problem should contact your own Congresspersons office and ask for assistance trust me they are experts on Red Tape Bureaucracy. And when you get thru ask them for a high blood pressure pill. Besides, I always figured I could get more from my mule if I gave him a lump of sugar instead of a lump on the head with a shovel.

I arrived at my appt for 230p. My appt did not take place until 2 hrs later. Everybody was getting ready to leave until I said something. The Security guard turned the TV off while I was watching it while waiting in the waiting room. I mentioned if they had forgotton about my appt. I never got my lab results. This experience happened a month ago! I will just go to my own personal Dr!

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.