Earlier this spring, I penned an article for PolicyMic entitled, “Outdated GI Bill Cheats Our Veterans From College Education.” Not long after it was published, officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs addressed the situation and sent more staff to their Buffalo Regional Office to expedite payments of benefits to student veterans across the country.
Fast forward to the already underway Fall Semester. While student veterans should be studying for midterms, we are again worrying about where our benefits are. To their credit, many schools are working with the veterans when it comes to tuition payments. Unfortunately, this is not the case with landlords, utility companies, internet service providers, etc. When students try to call Education Case Managers at the VA, an automated voice message comes on saying, “we are sorry, but we cannot take your call at this time. Goodbye.”
As I stated before, back in March, a good idea would have been to hire more staff or temporary employees to certify education benefits and start the ball rolling on payments. The Veterans Administration, however, thought it would be a better use of taxpayer dollars to get spa treatments and other gifts for a total of over $5 million. Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), the House Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee said, “[The Veterans Administration] is facing major obstacles – a backlog that continues to grow exponentially, a mental health care crisis, bureaucracy, and now this latest report that VA employees went on a spending spree.”
One person has lost his job over this, but it is now time for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki to move on as well. In what has to be the worst case of political spin in recent memory (and that is saying a lot, considering this is an election year), Shinseki alleges that is a good thing to have so many backlogs, because the VA is reaching more people. One has to ask now, if they are adding more and more veterans to the already strained system, how will they reach Shinseki’s goal of 125-day wait times by 2015?
Unless some drastic changes are made, we will continue to see the national average of 241-day wait times remain. Or worse, we could see numbers more in line with Oakland, CA’s average wait time: 320 days. Granted, Shinseki set some lofty goals, but by not addressing the core problem of streamlining the benefit payment process, the goals will never be met. As the former Chief of Staff of the Army, Shinseki should have known not to set his own mission up for failure.
Ashley Metcalf, an Air Force veteran now enrolled at the University of Colorado Denver sums it up best, “We’re not asking for a raise or for extra benefits. We’re just asking the VA to do what it said it would do: pay us on time.”