It’s understandable why 26,000 veterans signed a petition to have Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki canned. They are enraged and frustrated that the nearly 500,000 veterans have waited more than four months for action on their disability claims.
The backlog of claims is outrageous.
Unfortunately, as well as sadly, the incredible wait for benefits is nothing new. The VA is a large government bureaucracy that does not adapt to changes well.
Shinseki is not totally to blame for the situation. In fact, Shinseki has been working on making the VA system more efficient. Changing government process and cultures takes time.
The backlog of cases has been diminishing in recent months. It now stands at 490,000, down from the 530,000 on June 15.
And keep in mind this is at a time when the number of veterans returning from war has been rapidly increasing.
So while we don’t see an immediate need to fire Shinseki, we do see an opportunity to keep political pressure on him and other VA officials.
The group behind the petition drive, Concerned Veterans for America, is doing just that.
“There are still 500,000 veterans waiting in the disability claims backlog, and this is unacceptable,” the group said in a statement. “CVA is keeping the heat on and will ensure the voices of veterans are heard.”
This situation must be eliminated. It is simply too much to ask veterans in need of benefits to be patient month after month as the VA attempts to improve its processes.
To the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been waiting in line for more than 125 days for benefits, fixing the system is among the most important things in the world. They need help now.
When Shinseki took office in 2009, we were encouraged by his quick action aimed at reform.
“Shinseki seems committed to making rhetoric become reality,” we wrote more than four years ago. “In his short time in office Shinseki appears to be working heavily toward changing a culture built on following rules at the expense of helping veterans.”
It is certainly disappointing more progress has not been made.
VA officials were quoted in a Washington Post article as saying measures have been taken to reduce the backlog, including reorganization, new training and new technology. This is “the largest transformation in its history,” according to the VA.
Improving this situation over the long term has to be the highest priority for Shinseki as well a task on the top of Congress’ and President Obama’s must-do lists.