Buffalo, NY -- (ReleaseWire) -- 06/08/2018 -- The Veterans Administration recently took two steps toward improving wait times for veterans applying for disability. Robert Wilkie, who has served as the VA's acting secretary since March, was appointed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the agency signed with Cerner for an electronic records system that will modernize the VA's health care IT system and help provide seamless care to veterans as they transition from military service to veteran status.
Curt Cashour, press secretary for the agency, says these actions will help reduce the time veterans wait for decisions on disability benefits. Currently, more than 338,000 veterans who have applied for disability benefits, and 69,000 who have appealed their rating for benefits, are waiting for decisions on their claims.
"Congress and the Trump administration have been playing politics with leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs while disabled veterans go without disability benefits," said Jeffrey M. Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. "Locally, we have seen clients appeal ratings and wait five years for a decision. While they wait, these applicants suffer severe financial stress, which impacts their health."
A lack of leadership at the top of the agency extends beyond the top position of Veteran Affairs secretary, according to John Hoellwarth, spokesman for Amvets.
"There has been a mass exodus of the organization's most knowledgeable and experienced personnel," Hoellwarth said. This includes losses in the rank and file — 33,000 vacancies in total. Curt Cashour, agency spokesman, said, "in many cases, employees who were not on board with this administrations' policies have departed."
"The 330,000 employees left at the VA are doing their best to stick to their mission," Freedman said. "But as the former chief of staff at the VA hospital in Cleveland has said, morale is running low."
President Trump's revised Veterans Choice Act – the original was signed by President Obama – allowing veterans to seek care from private physicians, has created a mountain of paperwork for VA doctors, according to recent reports. VA physicians say the data entry created when veterans see doctors from outside the agency, is taking them away from their primary job: to provide care for the general population of veterans, and medical evaluations and documentation to those applying for disability.
Cashour, however, says new patients seeking care are being seen more quickly than in the past: mental health requests went from 11.4 days to 11.2 days; primary care requests went from 24.3 days to 21.8 days; specialty care went from 23.5 to 20.7 days. All clinics combined went from 19.1 days to 17.1 days.
"We have to keep in mind, these are not huge improvements, and these statistics represent the national average, which means there are still many veterans waiting longer to get appointments," Freedman said. "Plus, there's a significant variation from one region to the next."
The impact of the leadership vacuum affects veterans on a very personal level, he said. For those disabled due to service-related injuries, obtaining disability benefits has become a long and arduous process.
"We serve clients from all over the nation," Freedman said. "And we have worked with veterans who have appealed their ratings and had to wait five years for a decision on their appeals. Veterans deserve better."
Jeffrey Freedman, is managing attorney of Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. The firm, which, in addition to veterans disability claims handles Social Security Disability, bankruptcy, personal injury cases, workers compensation, employment discrimination and long-term disability, has more than 38 years of experience helping clients.
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