The VA’s Disability Distress

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Craig Sanchez

The Army promoting Kayla Williams to the rank of sergeant in Tal Afar, Iraq, 2003.

There’s been a nasty fight going on over the huge backlog of claims among U.S. military veterans seeking disability payments for their military service. It has led critics, including our own Joe Klein as well as a guest post on Battleland last week, to call on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Bryant Jordan of the independent website summed up the skirmish here.

“Unbalanced, partisan criticism that left unchecked will sway veterans away from applying for and accessing their benefits,” a senior VA official complained following the Battleland post last Tuesday. “We have millions of veterans who love their VA healthcare and benefits and the vast, vast majority of veterans organizations support the VA.”

The official suggested we are partisan. Regular readers of Battleland know we are true partisans here – of both the right and the left. Bipartisan in the best sense of the word. We welcome interesting posts from all sides on national-security matters.

That’s why we’re glad to publish a series of three posts this week from Kayla Williams, a former Army sergeant, Arab linguist and Iraq war vet who wrote a book – Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army — about it.

She and her husband, also a former soldier, know a lot about the VA from first-hand experience. She doesn’t excuse the VA’s shortcomings, but contends they stem from long-standing problems that Shinseki has been trying to fix. Williams’ posts have been planned for awhile, and have nothing to do with last week’s VA gripe.

She told Battleland why she’s stepping into the fray:

I’ve heard a truly depressing number of vets say they haven’t bothered to file for the disability benefits they deserve because they assume the process will be horrible, and even more who tell me they don’t get health care at VA because they’ve heard a story from someone who had a bad experience. I absolutely don’t deny that there are bad experiences in the claims process and in the health care system — of course there are. But for whatever combination of reasons, the negative anecdotes for many people outweigh the facts: VA’s health care system outperforms civilian systems of care; millions of veterans receive compensation. Vets who don’t seek care at VA may get suboptimal care elsewhere, or worse, no care at all.

Perhaps even more painful, she says, is how the VA has become a tennis ball to be whacked across the court of public opinion by folks she sees as having ulterior motives:

It seems as if some journalists and “advocates” are more interested in getting attention to their own causes than doing what is actually best for veterans. And that’s what I care about: what’s best for veterans. The Veteran Service Organizations who help vets file claims support the current transition process and are working in partnership with VA to see it implemented effectively. That’s awesome. I’m an outsider: not an employee of any of those organizations. I’m independent. There’s nothing in this for me…I want to help set the record straight and provide accurate information. I want to encourage veterans to seek the care and benefits they earned.

Sounds to Battleland like a good reason to check out what Sergeant Williams has to say Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.