Former Secretary of Veteran Affairs Anthony Principi wrote in a Wall Street Journal column Wednesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing vets.
Pincipi cited the backlog of claims the VA is still working on, which he says the department will not be able to work through fast enough.
On Aug. 22, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said that the department has reduced a backlog of disability claims by 20 percent to some 773,000 cases, including about 480,000 that have been pending for more than 125 days. Yet no number of new claims processors will be skilled enough, no computer fast enough or shortcut quick enough to deal with the ever-rising tide of claims unless the VA refocuses on the kind of care the system was designed to deliver. The enumeration of benefits has evolved far beyond the nation's obligation to those who became ill or injured while in service. It is time to return to original principles.
Every year more than a million veterans file claims for "service-connected" disability compensation; that is, for any disability or disease arising while on active duty, regardless of how the disability or disease was incurred. Nearly 80% of those claims are from veterans whose service predates Sept. 11, 2001. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, 37% are filed by my fellow Vietnam War veterans. More than 100,000 claims were filed last year by veterans who served during peacetime.
Pincipi suggested there be a cutoff date for veterans filing disability. He said older vets are being compensated for expected and ordinary effects of aging. He admitted his own responsibility in the growing pile of claims and said that current benefits must be changed in order to provide future benefits for veterans.
Pincipi also pointed out problems with the "individual unemployability" concept.
Veterans Affairs can pay disability compensation at a 100 percent rate to veterans with lesser disabilities—evaluated as little as 60 percent disabled—if their disability prevents them from working. That makes sense for working-age veterans. But does it make sense when a veteran files his first claim when he is 80 or 90 years old?
Pincipi called on Congress to reevaluate and reassess the laws and rules regulating the VA.