by Bill McMichael
The News Journal
January 24, 2014
Today marks the 38th day since I asked the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., for an on-the-record official to discuss why disability compensation cases were being transferred from Baltimore and Philadelphia to Wilmington and other northeast Veterans Benefits Administration offices last year, increasing Wilmington’s backlog – which continues to grow despite an overall national trend in the opposite direction.
We went to VA in Washington because Wilmington is essentially a satellite of the larger Philadelphia office and has no spokesman. Philadelphia does, but the office is only occasionally responsive and has been completely non-responsive on the why of this issue.
On Dec. 17, a VA public affairs officer in Washington offered me an off-the-record background briefing on the issue. That means I couldn’t quote anything said. More to the point, it meant that I might learn a lot but that VA was not going to offer up an official to publicly account for the growing backlog at Wilmington.
Agencies in Washington love to offer background to reporters, who will often take it in the absence of nothing to give their readers. Backgrounders, however, lack the credibility the words gain coming from an identifiable public official from an agency.
In VA’s case, it’s the height of arrogance – and a lack of responsiveness that is an insult to every veteran left waiting at Wilmington.
The backlog is an important issue. Veterans waiting for Wilmington to process their compensation cases are having to wait even longer because the caseload has grown. These are folks who are claiming service-related injuries or maladies that in many cases interfere with their ability to fully function – to hold a job, among other challenges. For them, compensation isn’t some sort of bonus. It’s part of the nation’s payback for their service – absent which they wouldn’t have the injury or malady.
When I asked in mid-November for an explanation, Wilmington’s backlog had grown from 654 to 903 since March 30, a span of time when VA’s national backlog had fallen from 569,547 to 382,473. (It’s since ticked up again, to 400,546.)
According to the latest weekly report from VA, dated Jan. 21, Wilmington’s 903 has grown over the past two months to 1,050.
Last summer, VA told me that a major reason for the growth at Wilmington was that 774 cases were “brokered” – government-speak for transferring cases from one VBA to another – to Wilmington from Baltimore (262) and Philadelphia (512) during fiscal year 2013. (I was also told by the Philadelphia Regional Office that 300 cases with pending appeals were sent to Philadelphia because Wilmington lacked a proper review officer.) According to e-mails provided by the Philadelphia Regional Office, Baltimore brokered cases to five other VBA offices as well. Its backlog fell between March 30 and mid-November from 15,661 to 6,608.
It’s apparent that VA doesn’t want to talk about this.
My most recent query on the backlog issue topic was sent to VA in Washington Nov. 19. That got an immediate reply: “We’ll find out.” On Nov. 25, I was sent some background on the practice of brokering and a promise that “we’re checking now to see who could be available to talk.” On Dec. 3, I asked again for that interview. On Dec. 17, I was sent a note with an apology for not getting back to me “last week,” and the background briefing offer. I countered that I wanted an accountable official who could talk on the record.
I, and our readers, are still waiting.
Life Member VFW NY Post 53
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
|Blog:||Cold War Veterans Blog|
|Network:||My Fast Pitch! Profile|