Costello Op-Ed: Take VA into community to better serve veterans
As published in the Philadelphia Inquirer
The trust between Veterans Affairs and those it serves has been shattered by scandal after scandal. We need not look any further than the Philadelphia VA Regional Office to see the current culture of mismanagement, distrust, backlogged claims, and lack of attention to care.
More recently, the VA Office of the Inspector General noted that a Philadelphia VA official inappropriately used positions of authority for personal and financial benefit.
We need a solution to foster a better culture within the VA regional offices. It is our belief that it starts with the rebuilding of the relationship between VA and the veterans it assists.
To that end, we introduced House Bill 3936, the Veteran Engagement Team Act, also known as the VET Act. This bill is an effort to put a name to a veteran's face. Veterans are people, not just claims numbers.
If enacted, the VET Act would create a monthly "one-stop shop" for veterans seeking to complete their claims, on the spot, with all personnel needed to process that claim. These Veteran Engagement Team events would take VA employees out of the office and into the community to help area veterans in a one-on-one setting. This model puts veterans' needs first.
We can streamline the VA claims process to eliminate the wait time, miscommunication, and lost paperwork that plagues the system.
On hand at VET events will be a sufficient number of physicians, claims raters, and other personnel to facilitate the completion and adjudication of claims on the spot. Veterans will not have to endure a wait to receive the care they seek.
You may be thinking, but what if the veterans cannot get the assistance they need at the VET event? If veterans cannot complete their claim at the event, the legislation requires VA to give veterans a clear explanation of the next steps that are needed to complete a claim. This will help prevent the runaround and miscommunication that many veterans have experienced.
Now, this is not a bureaucratic overreach. It requires coordination at all levels, starting with the local effort. Community doctors and veteran service representatives would have the opportunity to offer services pro bono, and VA could coordinate and use community facilities at no or minimal cost. VA also would be required to use existing staff - not just hire staff to sit at these events. Finally, it would hold these staffers accountable by requiring them to submit a report that includes the number and types of claims completed, an explanation of the claims they were unable to complete, and an overview of customer satisfaction.
The good news is, this method has been tested and it works. The American Legion has demonstrated the effectiveness of a similar program that puts veterans directly in contact with Veteran Crisis Command Centers. The legion saw great success with this program, starting with a restoration of trust between veterans and the organization. By rebuilding communication, many veterans received the benefits they have been waiting on for years. H.B. 3936 would replicate this model at the federal level directly at VA.
We cannot continue with business as usual at VA. Our veterans deserve better quality and more prompt care they can trust. They have earned it.
We believe the VET Act will help put VA on the right path.