Op-Ed: Arizona’s Veterans Deserve Better than the Current VA Backlog

Op-Ed: Arizona’s Veterans Deserve Better than the Current VA Backlog

Regrettably, too many of America’s heroes are facing difficulties when transitioning to civilian life, specifically with regard to securing the Veterans Affairs disability benefits to which they are entitled.

According to the most recent survey from the VA, veterans in Arizona trail the national average when receiving disability compensation by several percentage points, exposing issues with the current claims system that need to be corrected.

A significant impediment that veterans face when trying to secure VA disability benefits is the claims system itself. A maze of bureaucratic red tape, many veterans find it overwhelming, if not impossible, to navigate the process themselves.

As such, they have turned to veterans service organizations (VSOs) and VA-accredited attorneys for assistance.

But while these entities can provide some important help, VSOs are staffed predominantly by volunteers who also handle a myriad of other tasks, from medical transportation services to home loan help, and as such lack the manpower and expertise to assist all of Arizona’s veterans with their claims.

In fact, a quick scan of the VA website shows that only a little over half of the VSO representatives in Arizona even have a phone number listed, leaving approximately one reachable VSO officer for every 7,900 veterans in the state. Attorneys, meanwhile, only step in upon appeal of a claims decision, causing further delays in the process.

While Congress is evaluating legislative solutions to address these shortcomings, they must choose their path wisely, as with government it is too often the case that the cure is worse than the problem.

A bill known as the GUARD VA Benefits Act, while well-intentioned, could limit veteran choice in the ways they could seek assistance throughout the process and make it harder to secure benefits.

Fortunately, a better path forward exists in the form of the PLUS for the Veterans Act, which would provide a pathway for the private sector to take a more active role in helping veterans navigate the VA disability claims process.

In recent years, as the VA backlog has ballooned to over 300,000 claims, private consulting agents have started offering their services to help streamline the process. These companies, which can leverage marketplace forces and staff expertise to efficiently process claims, work on a contingency basis, which means that they do not get paid unless they increase the benefit payment for a veteran.

Unfortunately, the current VA accreditation process does not allow a pathway for these private actors to gain formal VA recognition — an oversight that needs to be fixed. But instead of providing such a pathway, supporters of the GUARD Act would like to criminalize this business model altogether.

The PLUS Act, by contrast, would reform the accreditation regime to include private consultants while increasing the VA’s capability to enforce laws against exploitation of veterans by bad actors. This legislation would empower veterans to decide their best course of action for themselves when seeking assistance by offering a much broader pool of VA-accredited firms, providing more options in maneuvering a very complicated bureaucratic process.

When I sat as a member of the Arizona state Senate, I fielded hundreds of inquiries from veterans pertaining to their health care and disability claims and have seen firsthand the difficulties these individuals face in navigating this system.

I can only hope that all the stakeholders in Washington who have been entrusted with protecting our veterans can pass the PLUS Act or come to the table to craft a compromise that will benefit those who served our country.

Given how much these men and women have sacrificed, the least we can do is give them the tools and choices to get the help and assistance they need and deserve.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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