After stepping up to serve our country, veterans should not be shortchanged access to their benefits. In no other area, in or out of government, would this wait time be acceptable. So why is it okay for veterans?
The Veterans Benefits system is extremely complex and difficult to navigate, particularly for those veterans suffering from debilitating physical and psychological illness. There are few advocates and attorneys who are qualified to represent veterans with their disability claim and even fewer who can assist veterans who are denied benefits because they received an less than Honorable discharge from the military. Therefore, far too many veterans never see the full measure of their claim such as receiving retroactive awards and adequate disability ratings for service-connected disabilities. That is why lawyers (those certified to do VA claims representation) should be involved from the very beginning of the disability claims process to ensure veterans receive the benefits they rightfully earned and rely on for survival.
When looking at the dismal situation at the Oakland VARO, as well as the other dozen or so failing VAROs nationwide, a very important question remains. What is the game plan to fix these failing offices? It is inexcusable that reputable organizations like Swords to Plowshares that represent veterans seeking disability compensation have not been invited to present practical solutions based on decades of experience. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be drawn from practitioners, veteran service organizations and Social Security administrators who have implemented successful models (e.g. “Compassionate Compensation” and “Wounded Warriors”).
There’s never been greater public and political awareness that the VA’s Claims Adjudication System is broken than there is today. Unfortunately, little change has been seen. Now is the time to convene a planning committee to help improve the system and eliminate the backlog at the Oakland VARO.
Michael Blecker, Executive Director
Michael Blecker has been associated with Swords to Plowshares since 1976, only two years after its founding in 1974 by a group of Vietnam veterans and VISTA volunteers at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco. He is a co-founder of the California Association of Veterans Service Agencies, the National Association for Homeless Veterans, and a founder of the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
Mr. Blecker served in the U.S. Army combat infantry in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. He holds a J.D. degree from New College of California School of Law (1980) and a B.A. degree with honors from UC Berkeley (1974).