Thursday, March 08, 2018

THOR'S DAY RANT: How to fix the VA

Since the American Revolutionary War, there has been a history of providing for soldiers injured fighting for our country. In his second Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln even declared  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

The phrase "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan" has since been adopted as the official motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and even hangs on a plaque at the Department's headquarters. But when was the last time you heard a veteran praise the VA for its care?

There is a fundamental flaw with the VA, and it's got nothing to do with the gender of the soldiers described in Lincoln's motto. It has to do with the basic ideology of those working for the VA. 

I retired from the criminal justice system in 2014, switching over to the civil practice side of law, trading in my gun and badge for desk in a back room, working as a paralegal instead of an investigator. In my day job, I've been struck by the fundamental difference in the way things are done in civil practice, as compared to criminal justice. 

In the Prosecutor's Office, we looked for ways to prove that a suspect committed a crime. In civil practice, the emphasis is on finding a way to show there is no liability on the part of our client. When it comes to the VA, and veteran's making claims for service-connected disabilities, it appears that the many civilian workers tasked with supporting those of us who served is much more in line with the civil practice of law: they search for ways to avoid having to provide care. 

If you file a claim with the VA, you aren't believed. You have to provide facts and even records to support your claim. The rationale behind this is to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. That might seem odd for an agency that in recent years has been exposed as a massive source of fraud, waste, and the abuse of taxpayer dollars with lavish bonuses, expensive trips to conventions that seem more in line with Spring Break vacations, and outright dereliction of duty by those in charge. 

That isn't the case across the board though. If a veteran makes a claim about having been exposed to Agent Orange, the process is relatively simple: the claims reps confirm service in a theater or area where the chemical was used, and the claim is approved. No fuss, no muss. 

Why can't the VA do this for all veteran claims? Instead of looking for excuses to deny claims, shouldn't reps be looking for ways to help? That's the whole purpose of the VA: to help wounded veterans. There's no profits to be impacted by helping veterans. And, at least when I enlisted, part of that contract of service, was the promise that the US Government would take care of me if I was injured--a promise I'm still waiting for them to fulfill. 

The way to fix the VA is simple: tell claims reps to find a way to help. They shouldn't be encouraged to deny claims, or rewarded for resolving claims quickly. They should be rewarded for helping America live up to its responsibility to care for those of use who served.