Providing veteran services

It is not enough to acknowledge the vital contribution of our military veterans in protecting this nation and its freedom, though we certainly should do that. Our nation must also assure that these men and women receive the services they were promised and deserve.

Our veterans are not forgotten when it comes to government programs. The Veterans Benefits Administration provides educational and vocational counseling, along with career assistance. Veterans who for medical or health reasons are unable to manage financial affairs qualify for fiduciary assistance.

The Independent Living program has the goal of making sure veterans with service-connected disabilities can, to the maximum extent possible, live independently. Connecticut has won national recognition for aggressively addressing homelessness among veterans.

Where our nation falls short, a lack of resources is often the issue.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports a backlog of 470,000 pending appeals of disability compensation decisions. President Trump signed the Veterans Appeals and Improvement and Modernization Act with the purpose of streamlining the process. But VA Secretary David Shulkin said the agency needs another $800 million to provide the staffing necessary to clear the backlog over the next decade.

The Trump administration has sought to continue the efforts begun by the Obama administration to outsource routine veteran care to private providers, allowing more VA medical resources to focus on complex medical issues and combat-related injuries. The VA Choice Program also allows veterans to see a doctor outside the system if they must wait more than a month for a medical appointment or travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility. In some areas, wait times of two months exist.

But for these efforts to be effective, the VA needs to update its digital medical records system, allowing it to efficiently share medical records with private providers. Based on the cost of the Electronic Health Records system developed for the Department of Defense, Shulkin places the estimated cost of modernizing VA medical recordkeeping at $16 billion.

Other challenges include improving the accuracy of an online service intended to show veterans wait times at VA locations and assuring adequate staffing for crisis hotlines.

Congress might look to the good will of the American people, providing on tax returns the ability to add to their federal income tax payments, or subtract from their anticipated tax rebates, providing money that would go directly to meeting veteran needs. The public, however, would need an ironclad assurance of its use for that purpose only and prohibiting corresponding cuts in the general budget.

Our guess is that the public would respond, substantially boosting the available resources and taking the opportunity to do more than just say thanks.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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