Veteran Tells VA Sec McDonald: I’ve Been Waiting 15 Years For My Claim

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald asked an audience full of veterans how many still had claims outstanding at a Disabled American Veterans convention on Monday in Denver.

All over the auditorium, hands shot up, but one veteran shouted his answer out loud: “15 years!”

“15 years is too long,” McDonald responded. Earlier in the event, McDonald pointed to skyrocketing demand as part of the reason for backlogs.

“The number of veterans seeking care and benefits is increasing, and that’s what’s caused last year’s crisis,” McDonald stated. “Veterans demand for services exceeded VA’s capacity to provide it. That’s the fundamental problem.”

The conference was framed as a dialogue between House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller and the secretary. While relations have at times been tense between the two over the past several months, the discussion on Monday was unusually cordial, with both Miller and McDonald praising each other for working hard at reform.

“Jeff and I both care deeply about veterans, and as you can tell from this discussion, most of everything we’ve said, we agree on,” McDonald said.

Although the two focused mostly on areas of agreement, one issue still remains to be resolved, namely the new, bipartisan VA Accountability Act, which builds on the legislation enacted last summer. According to McDonald, the legislation makes it much more difficult to attract top-tier talent, as it makes the VA less attractive relative to other government agencies, or even the private sector. The American Federation of Government Employees has also come out against the legislation, saying that it kills fundamental due process rights. (RELATED: Veteran Community Backs New Accountability Bill, But This Union Of Govt Employees Stands In The Way)

But for Miller, the bill doesn’t force McDonald’s hand to fire anyone, it only gives him the authority to remove problematic employees as he sees fit. Moreover, Miller argued that if the bill proves successful, other government agencies may adopt the same model.

“I don’t know anybody that wants to work at an agency where ineffective people are protected and rewarded,” Miller stated.

McDonald quickly rejected the idea of privatizing the VA as a solution to long wait times and slow responses to benefits claims, citing the department’s past history of breaking medical research.

“In a system where you don’t have a VA, where you might not have the research, what for-profit system is going to do that research?” McDonald asked. “I do believe there is a role for government. You can debate what size that is, but who is going to do that if VA doesn’t?”

“It’s a great system,” McDonald continued. “We need to strengthen it and supplement it with private care, but there’s no question that we are not in favor of privatizing or doing anything that would atrophy the VA system to where it couldn’t adequately care for veterans.”

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