President Obama reached out to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their annual convention in Phoenix, telling them that their access to health care would be expanded and joking with them about “the ‘billions of dollars’ for a fleet of new presidential helicopters,” which he said, would allow him to “cook a meal while under nuclear attack,” according to Politico. It was an endearing, funny speech in which he also expressed admiration for the veterans “who’ve done their duty.” Yet, as many of the veterans in the audience could attest, many of them are still not getting the care they need.
Certainly, there are signs of progress. A new staff has taken over the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is now headed up by Eric K. Shinseki and by others such as former IBM executive Scott Gould, who is the deputy secretary, and Tammy Duckworth, who is now an assistant secretary. Interestingly, Gould is co-author of a book titled The People Factor, with Harvard's Linda Bilmes, an analyst who has floated a radical proposal for veterans’ care: Award all veterans all of the benefits that they request and then audit a select few over the course of the year in the way that the IRS does.
It’s unlikely that this proposal will be put into practice, and in the meantime the situation for many veterans is just as frustrating and tedious as it was during the Bush administration. The backlog of claims has nearly reached 1 million. Meanwhile, the average wait time for settling a claim has been reduced, according to VA officials, from nearly 179 days -- which was the average waiting time last year -- to the current average of 162 days. This is better than before, but still an awfully long time. It has been only a few months since the new people at the Department of Veterans Affairs have moved into their offices, but veterans across the country are understandably anxious to see some dramatic improvements at the agency.
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