Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Elusive Seemless Transition

In a perfect world, it would be a seamless transition.
Severely wounded troops returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan and discharged from the service would
be able to get medical care and disability compensation
payments—and a full range of benefits—from the
Department of Veterans Affairs immediately. Red tape
would be minimal. Counselors would help servicemembers
cope with the paperwork and arrange for appointments.

The veterans’ military medical records would be
waiting at VA facilities when they got there. Help for
families would be readily available. Ideally, the entire
transition would take no more than a month.
Instead, over the past four years, many returning
Soldiers and Marines—a good number having lost arms
or legs or suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI)
or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—have run
into a bureaucratic nightmare. Confusing regulations
have mandated separate physical examinations by the
Department of Defense (DOD) and the VA, often with
differing outcomes involving a servicemember’s disability
rating. The waiting time for VA compensation
checks and other benefits frequently has ranged from
six months to two years—and appeals can prolong the
process even more. The VA’s own rulings have sometimes
been inaccurate or inconsistent. And veterans,
some of them unable to battle the bureaucratic dragons,
have often come out the losers.

Not surprisingly, the “seamless transition” problem, as
it has come to be known, has exploded into a major controversy.
A series of articles in the Washington Post a year
ago, which highlighted the problems facing outpatients
at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, has
spawned several high-level investigations—including an
independent review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert
M. Gates and the separate Dole-Shalala report, written by
a bipartisan commission—to look into the problem and
make recommendations. Congress just passed legislation
designed to fix some of the glitches.

Under pressure from all sides, DOD and the VA have
begun working together to correct some of the problems.
Over the past few months, the two departments have
hired more counselors and ombudsmen to guide sick and
wounded veterans through the transition process. They
have established a pilot program that would provide for
a single physical examination that would serve both the
military and the VA. And they have placed VA-DOD
“recovery coordinators” at major military installations to
improve cooperation between the departments.
But some veterans’ groups are skeptical that such
efforts will solve the problem anytime soon. Paul

Read the rest of this report in PDF

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