Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The VA Has a Big Problem No One Talks About



Every few months another scandal breaks out at the Veterans Administration.  Outrage ensues.  Politicians pound podiums and pretend to care about veterans, until the next issues looms.  Then they are outraged about pipelines, guns, or honey bees.

Whatever the current scandal is at the VA, there is a persistent problem that never gets mentioned.  That problem is fraud by veterans.  A small, but significant percentage of veterans milk the system for benefits they don’t deserve and clog the system for those who really need it.

Shortly after I returned from Iraq, I met a sergeant who had deployed the year before I did with a Stryker Brigade.  He asked me about retiring.  I said my break in service was too long, so I would not be getting a retirement.  He said he was staying for 20, but the retirement was bullshit.  He was going to retire at 40 and then get disability right away from the VA.  He wasn’t going to wait 20 years for National Guard retirement money.  

“We all have PTSD, right?” he said.

The important thing about this conversation is that we had just met.  He did not know me at all, yet he assumed I thought as he did.  And he assumed he was perfectly right in thinking the VA was there to give him money.  “We deserve it,” was something he also said, and I have heard from many other veterans.  In fact, many people have told me I should go to the VA when I leave the military because, “You deserve some kind of money for your service.” 

When our unit was out processing at Fort Dix after Iraq, I ran into a sergeant I had worked with a few times in Iraq.  The rest of us were leaving for home the next day, but he was staying.  I asked him why.  He said he was on medical hold.  For what?  He said he was getting disability for his combat service.

This guy worked in an office, never went outside the wire, was known by everyone he worked with as lazy.  But like a street kid, his motto in life is “Lemme get mine.”

Like many soldiers, I dislike hearing “You are all heroes.” I think the “Every Soldier is a Hero” idea may be helping some soldiers to excuse what is simply fraud. 

When you hear about the mess at the VA, think about the VA as a store that has to treat every shoplifter as well or better than they treat the real customers: even the shoplifters who have been caught shoplifting a half-dozen times.  Because the VA has the charge of caring for all veterans, the perpetual fraud cases can keep coming back.  That means the few engaged in fraud can cause a big and on-going problem.

I believe that if the VA could get control of fraud by the people they are caring for, they would be able to give much better care to the thousands and thousands of soldiers who really need the VA.