Earlier this week President Obama announced a “reverse bootcamp” for veterans returning from war in an attempt to overhaul the transition assistance program (TAP), which provides service members with information about benefits as well as career workshops.
Obama has been ambitious about trying to help veterans as he acknowledged Vietnam vets’ rights to claim compensation for more illnesses linked to Agent Orange (but not the water at Camp Lejeune or the chemicals at Fort McClellan), expanded education benefits for GIs and made it easier to file claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Photo: Phil Stewart/Reuters
But a new report from Phil Stewart of Reuters lays out that despite (and perhaps because of) these efforts the Obama administration is struggling to provide a safety net for veterans, and the numbers are pretty daunting:• A record 45 per cent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for service-related injuries and millions of other veterans remain ineligible for compensation and benefits.
• More than half of veterans who needed comprehensive mental-health evaluations had not received them within two weeks of initial contact (which is the VA’s target).
• A veteran within the VA healthcare system tries to commit suicide about once every half-hour.
• The VA processed more than 1 million pension and compensation claims in both 2010 and 2011, but the average time spent processing each claim grew from 2009 to 2011.
• Despite staff increases, the ratio of VA mental-health patients per full-time mental-health worker was at 65 to 1 last year, roughly unchanged from 2006.
• Disability compensation claims that are stalled for more than 125 days in the VA system increased fourfold from October 2009 to mid-July 2012 to 572,856 claims. Stewart notes that “Veterans returning home today join lines for disability payments much longer than those Obama called intolerable in 2008.”
• Unemployment among Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans was 12.1 per cent in 2011 (national average was 8.9 per cent). For 18- to 24-year-old veterans, the unemployment rate was 30 per cent last year (nearly double the 16.1 per cent rate for non-veterans in that age group.)
• The number of complaints against all employers for discrimination against service members has risen 73 per cent from 2001 to 1,548 last year, and the federal government accounted for the single biggest number of complaints with 18 per cent of the total.
• The VA created a national registry to track those who are homeless and also those at risk of becoming homeless – so far it has amassed more than 400,000 names (at least 67,000 are considered homeless).
The administration has blamed the economic crisis and ballooning deficits for the inability to provide for more veterans. “Fiscal reality set in,” a veterans’ advocate who provided information to the 2008 campaign told Stewart.
In 2008 the outgoing George W. Bush administration reportedly told Obama’s transition team that the VA apparatus “is broken, just play defence.”
So Obama should be commended for his work, but good intentions won’t make life any easier for the 1.6 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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