HARLINGEN, August 27 - Here is how the claims office at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is handling the backlog of claims:
They are not anything new, except sending out letters with the following message, ďWe, at the VA, are processing a very large amount of claims and appeals in the order that they are received. We apologize for the inconvenience that this process may present for you. It is going to take longer than normal processing time to complete your claim. We are doing everything we can to expedite your wait time.Ē
And with this apology, the VA thinks it is going to satisfy the thousands of veterans who wait for their claims to be adjudicated.
Why the backlog? It is because the VA is more concerned with finding ways to deny claims instead of giving the veteran the benefit of the doubt. They are requiring more OTC exams for proof of health needs. The problem is that there are not that many doctors willing to work with the VA against the veteran.
Members of the Veterans Affairs committees in the U.S. House and Senate have been in the spotlight lately bringing attention to the issue at a national level. But, their main concern is the returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. They are taking them first. There are still many Korean War and Vietnam War veterans that are just applying for their benefits. The Cold War veterans are also applying for service connected health and compensation. Had the VA being doing its job in the past, the problem would not have swelled to the backlog it is now experiencing.
In the meantime all veterans who feel they have a claim should apply for veteransí benefits for which they are entitled. The Veterans Affairs exists to take care of the veterans.
It seems that some of the more influential leaders in the Rio Grande Valley community are also tiring of the wait and see attitude of the VA towards a VA hospital to serve South Texas veterans. They are trying to attach the four-year medical school issue in order to present a better argument. A VA hospital can work hand in hand with a medical school by providing patients for the medical students. This past week there have been announcements coming out of Edinburg regarding the issue. One medical school is being proposed by the University of Texas. This proposal has been talked about for a good ten years. The other idea, supported by a group of Valley leaders who approached Texas A&M University, is to open a medical school in the McAllen or Edinburg area. The Regional Academic Health Center is a key to the argument for a medical school run by UT. Both approaches mention the VA hospital.
Valley veterans are very concerned about the VA hospital for South Texas. I do not believe that a single veteranís organization was invited to attend these two political announcement sessions. Valley veterans have been supporting the expansion of the Harlingenís VA Surgical Center into a Full Service Medical Center The main reason for this support is that the VA has been investing money in the Harlingen center and new huge building is mostly empty. There is plenty of space for it to be converted into a hospital. It would save millions of dollars in construction fees. Veterans had selected Harlingen and have been lobbying Congress for the expansion. But the City of Harlingen has been slow in supporting the idea. They feel that it is a done deal and so Harlingen leaders have not been listening to veterans. The wait and see attitude of the city leaders is of concern to veterans. Veterans feel that the Harlingen City Commission should be taking the lead in lobbying the VAís Strategic Capital Investment Plan which is the VAís plan for taking care of the future health needs of veterans. It is a very important document.
The mayor of Harlingen should pony up and have their political lobby mechanism working to bring an expansion of the Surgical Center into a Full Service Medical Center. Congressman Henry Cuellar has opened the door for a funding source, but he needs the support of others. The SPIC has had several meetings already and has expanded the language. The possibility of the Harlingen Surgical Center expansion is in danger of being left out. But, itís very easy to do away with it if there is no one their advocating for it. Veterans have done their job, now itís up to Harlingen.
The Veterans support is not edged in stone in support of the Harlingen site. Veterans want a VA hospital now, no matter where itís located in the Valley.
Arturo 'Treto' Garza, a resident of Harlingen, Texas, served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is a former co-chair of the Veteranís Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. He now writes in an individual capacity and not on behalf of the Veteranís Alliance. His Veteran's Voice column appears exclusively in the Guardian.