Editor’s Note: The following guest column is running as Part VIII of “Hope on the Homefront,” the Ithaca Voice’s 10-part series on the struggles of the area’s veterans.
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— By Jack Downing, CEO of Soldier On:
With the Department of Veterans Affairs slowly imploding financially, and burdened with a bloated bureaucracy capable of serving only about one third of our veterans, it is time for new ideas and new systems to ensure all our veterans get the care and benefits they have earned. To accomplish this, access to benefits and health care needs to be improved.
In its struggle to achieve financial stability with a looming $3 billion shortfall, the VA has been shifting funds and cutting back on expenses while warning Congress that the demand for services will continue to climb as it has during the past year. Much of the increased demand is being driven by the cost of outside doctors, which veterans can now choose to see through the new “”Veterans Choice Program” if they cannot get a VA appointment within 30 days.
Accordingly, the VA says its waiting lists of one month or more have increased by 50 percent over the last year when the problems plaguing the agency first came to light. The VA has hired more doctors and nurses and expanded access to care, but the number of veterans seeking care has multiplied beyond expectations.
We are seeing that throwing taxpayer funds at an agency with a bloated bureaucracy won’t work. I believe we have to simplify the process and work together with the VA and other agencies in easing access to benefits and health care so that we can reach 100 percent of our veterans. One solution is a computerized benefit card that allows every veteran to have all benefits and health needs listed in one account.
At Soldier On, when a case manager goes out into the community to meet with a homeless veteran, one of the first things they do to begin the road to permanent housing is to ensure that the veteran has applied for and is receiving all due benefits. If not, it can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process going agency to agency with the veteran to register. But it needs to be done because it is a necessary step to ensure that our veterans are able to get the services they need so they can get back on their feet for good.
With an automated benefit card, every veteran who files with the Internal Revenue Service would receive one identification card listing all the veteran’s benefits and medical needs, whether it be pharmaceutical, psych/social, or financial. It would eliminate the need to register for everything, to be at the VA constantly, and to drive to various medical centers and social service agencies. It would also bring consistency and a bit more dignity to the whole system of medical and financial benefits for veterans.
The beauty of this system is that it allows every veteran to access his or her benefits all day, every day, eliminates embedded barriers, and facilitates the timely deliverance of benefits. Veterans in need of services would receive their needed support promptly, without many of the delays and encumbrances that come with the current system.
When a veteran puts on a uniform, he or she is saying that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for us if necessary. They deserve the best care and attention we can provide.
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