Backlog of VA appointments adds more backlogs for veterans
After the longest war in our country’s history, the United States is on the verge of ending its overt involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As we end these wars, our nation owes a great debt to those who have volunteered to serve. Our technology, our politics and our culture are very different from what they were 20 years ago, and our Veterans should be different too. Our country’s new veterans need an adaptable, agile and flexible VA to meet their needs.
However, the VA has shown that it is neither adaptable nor flexible despite Congress approval of new authorities and massive increases in funding. Our veterans can now go home to pick up a number and wait in an exhaustive queue for help, only to be rewarded with an endless maze of VA bureaucracy.
At Mission Roll Call, we heard many veterans talk about their experiences of repeated postponements, appointment cancellations, and continuous phone calls to reschedule. Some have given up, raising the chilling prospect that some veterans most in need of help may have fallen through the cracks of the VA in the past 18 months. And we have no idea who or how many they are.
As the pandemic raged in the United States, the VA, understandably, limited in-person appointments, as did countless hospitals and medical facilities across the country. But while most hospitals quickly adapted to find ways to serve their patients, the VA continued to cancel or postpone appointments.
The worst part is that the VA did not provide details or information regarding the extent of the problem. In March, we raised the issue in the testimony before the Senate Veterans Committee, and in April we sent McDonough a letter asking for more information on the matter. We still have not received a response.
In the letter, we asked two simple questions: 1) How serious is the backlog problem? and 2) How can we, as a member of the veterans community, help the VA fix it?
Perhaps even more disheartening is the recent news that the backlog, combined with the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions, is leading to significantly increased demand on VA services at a time of full capacity, with limited capacity for the VA to cope with the increase. Even though the VA may refer to health providers in local veteran communities under the MISSION Act, in many cases they have consolidated programs to bring things back into the VA system.
In fairness to McDonough, this problem began long before his tenure began and he inherited a significant backlog. But now it’s his job to help guide the VA through the cleanup.
The wars may end, but our obligation to our veterans remains. This backlog is unacceptable and demands responses and transparency. Our veterans need help, and the VA must use every tool at its disposal to solve the problem.
Darrell Owens is the Director of Government Relations for the America’s Warrior Partnership and is currently a US Army Reserve Officer. Mission Roll Call is an initiative of the America’s Warrior Partnership.
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