How Can We Help Our Veterans?
I live in a community built to house veterans and their families, both my mother and my father served in the United States Army, and I have seen how the systems they attempted to use often failed them or simply just did not function as needed, this isn't the case for all veterans but for more than a few it is a real issue that causes those who pledged to serve and protect undue pain. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for the care and aid services provided to the United States Veterans, for a long while their care and accessibility have been to say at the least suboptimal.
There is a disproportionate number of veterans that are without adequate health and financial aid, the individuals who have sworn to serve and protect our country are without a support structure once they leave the armed forces, the VA is the organization meant to fill that void, yet they are severely lacking due to poor outreach and funding, leaving many veterans without proper care. If there is to be any hope of helping our veterans regain their footing and making sure they get the proper care they require then the VA is going to need massive changes, such as better outreach, application process, as well as securing more funding, and working with the military to make better separation procedures, which will all help restore it into working order.
Veterans are very different than active service members, although people tend to think that a veteran is simply an ex-soldier who is injured or retired, but that just isn't the case. An active service member is conditioned through the military to never show weakness or ask for help, because of this mentality, they will hardly ever seek special treatment for their perceived weakness and will continue to do their duty while injured or in severe pain. While this is admirable from certain perspectives, it is detrimental to themselves later when they become a veteran. Veterans, on the other hand, are encouraged to do the very things they were discouraged to do while they were active service members, which is show their perceived weakness and seek aid.
Ann Cheney a researcher whose focus is the barriers associated with VA care use said this, Veterans expressed concern over stigmatizing labels such as ?crazy' and ?mental health patients' as well as military attitudes (e.g., ?suck it up') fostering feelings of weakness and failure. Such attitudes contributed to veterans' anxiety and alcohol and drug use and impeded mental healthcare services use (5). If they are hurt, mentally or physically, society tells them to go to the VA and request assistance, this is completely against everything they were instructed on during their service as such they often don't attempt it. This scenario also presents a glaring flaw in the system: injuries and conditions that are related to an individual's time in service are treated for free at the VA, but if the veteran never reported their ailments during their time of service, there is no way for the Veteran to prove that their condition is related to their time in service. So, for the veteran, these conditions are problems that are obvious, urgent, and have plagued them for years, but for a VA claims-processor, the question obviously then becomes "if this has plagued you for so long, why did you never seek treatment?" As such, claims get denied constantly for this reason.
The VA's methods of record keeping are outdated, slow, and prone to errors or mistakes. As stated by Timothy Roberts, an author who has researched the VA extensively, The issue of wait times for VA healthcare is not new. Approaches to providing timely access to care for veterans enrolled in VA health care have included the use of non-VA care reimbursed by the VA. The need to rely on non-VA care in some cases has raised questions about the VA's capacity to provide services to the veteran population now and in the future (53-54). The current system that the VA employing an antiquated, slow system, there should be a seamless experience from the individuals military service to their burial however, a veteran's medical record is printed out and retyped into the VA system. This method of book keeping is detrimental to the experience of veterans at the VA, after all this system is the backbone of every veteran's experience with the VA.
To make matters worse many veterans don't know what services they are entitled to use or what the eligibility requirements are, so there is a lot of frustration when they get denied after applying for a specific benefit. However as seen from another light, most veterans are old and are often inept in terms of their ability to use computers in the same way others might be able to. Furthermore, many veterans live in rural areas with no internet access or are simply homeless, these veterans need access to services as much as or even more than anyone else. Just simply removing the ability to apply for benefits through paper would limit their ability to access these crucial services, although a compromise lies in using document scanners and less error prone documents.
The military is not helping the VA in any way when it comes to combating and reducing the spread of misinformation. As it is currently, according to many veterans in the community, it seems every single base has some sort of strategy about how to manipulate the VA claims system, an unfounded, false rumor about how the claims system works, or a deeply rooted belief that the VA and the military were somehow one and the same. The point of this is not to say that all of the service members use these practices or hold these beliefs, but that There seems to be misinformation spread by seemingly trust worthy sources. It could also be argued that the military takes responsibility out of the hands of its active service-members by providing them with housing, education, training, employment, and healthcare without the service members needing to even apply. However, every single VA benefit must be applied for individually and nothing is simply automatically opt-in.
Many service members just expect the VA to simply review their medical record and notify them of their disability percentage, without checking whether that their condition or conditions have either improved or worsened. Daniel Bertoni of the US Government Accountability Office wrote in a statement about the effectiveness of the VA outreach programs, Some have raised questions about whether individuals fully understand the range of benefit options and whether they need assistance in determining the program that best fits their needs. (2). The truth is that there is not enough explanation about the benefits and programs offered by the VA, as such many veterans do not know what they can and cannot apply for or even sometimes what the scope of what they have applied for is. All of this is merely misinformation that could be easily cleared up by the military and by better outreach from the VA.
The VA is by no means a normal healthcare system, while that might not seem like an issue to most, it turns out to be a large issue for the VA. For example, WWII and Korean War veterans are now in their 90's and need long-term care measures that come with the effects of aging. Then there are Vietnam veterans whom are 65 or older which makes them eligible for more VA services, in addition to the fact that they were the least likely to report health problems during their service. Also, multiple changes to regulations over the last several years have entitled Vietnam veterans to several additional benefits due to exposure to defoliants (Chemicals to kill of leaves and other small plants, ex. Agent Orange). The VA's healthcare system is now responsible for hundreds of thousands of veterans with long-term conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancers which were never thought to be "service-connected" conditions.
These conditions require far more specialized care and resources on top of being added to the VA's list of responsibilities without additional time or funding to get things ready ahead of time. According to Philip Roberts whose work looks at the care for female veterans, the number of women veterans has grown substantially, doubling from 4 percent of all veterans in 1990 to 8 percent, or an estimated 1.8 million, today (2). That is adding approximately 2 million female veterans who need specialized care for women's health who simply did not exist a few decades ago, also congress was not proactively approving funding by for this care. We now also have just over 2 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are now eligible. These veterans are different from the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans because many of them survived injuries that would have been fatal during their respective time periods, these veterans have unique healthcare needs which are distinct and costly, they too require specialized care. This issue can be summed up as an organization that cannot raise prices, change eligibility criteria, or increase its own funding, to put it simply, there is not a lot the VA can do with its own power to change the variables going into providing care and benefits to their patients aside from just pushing their staff to work harder.
The solutions for the issues plaguing the VA are simple, there is a lack of information and awareness, more individuals just need to care enough about implementing these. The VA needs better outreach, this could be achieved at a county level by providing better or more training to county veteran service officers, these are county employees who help veterans, but receive some training and support from the VA. There needs to be more intensive training for them and they should have direct contact numbers for VA personnel who can offer more detailed assistance when necessary. Then there is the military, it needs to change its separation procedures to force their service members to either apply for disability compensation when they retire or sign a statement showing that they have no service connected disabilities. If the service member applies for disability compensation, they would be given an exit exam immediately by a VA physician.
Furthermore, Congress needs to increase funding for VA medical centers as to allow for new construction and more specialists to support the care of the diverse needs of the ageing, female, and modern war veterans. In the meantime, veterans could receive private care at the VA's expense, if their wait time is higher than the standardized threshold. Applications should be able to be done completely online, the VA is almost there as is, but there are still some parts which are not as simple to submit or upload. Finalizing ebenefits will put VA on the right track, but this must be done alongside a simplified claims process for older veterans who are unfamiliar with the innerworkings of the website. Finally, claims submissions should also be accepted at VA medical centers instead of only regional benefits offices, this will help increase accessibility and reduce confusion.
Overall, there are great issues that affect millions of Americans that stem from the same organization, these issues include a lack of support, an outdated system, widespread misinformation, and an aging population. In reality, if some seemingly minor improvements were made to the VA such as a better application process, more prominent outreach, as well as securing more funding, and working alongside the military to reduce misinformation and help veterans get set up with the VA, then many of the proposed problems plaguing the VA would be drastically alleviated. The only remaining issue is that the VA does not hold the power to initiate these changes itself, as they are only a part of the federal government, so there will need to be a greater amount of support for change in the VA's practices among the more prominent groups in politics.