Readers of Tom Philpott's Military Update Column Sound Off.
I am a retired Army officer and a Vietnam veteran who was elated to read Anthony J. Principi's comments regarding what you called an "eligibility explosion for VA disability compensation. He hit the nail right on the head.
I didn't realize the magnitude of this until I started volunteering in the Retiree Activities Office at Keesler AFB, Miss., and saw the number of veterans who visit for assistance submitting VA claims, some of which I would categorize as frivolous.
The criteria to qualify for Agent Orange claims are way too liberal. I am 73 years old and have not been in Vietnam since 1971. If I get diabetes today it sure isn't because of Agent Orange, and I would not file a claim.
Really upsetting is that a majority of those filing what I regard as frivolous claims are military retirees who already get a pension. There is a group of retirees among us who feel they are entitled to a VA pension. When I see a kid come in with two Purple Hearts, having difficulty getting VA assistance, it is upsetting to consider the number of individuals being compensated for the frivolous stuff.
Thank you for publishing such a wonderful article. I will make sure to take it with me when I go on duty in Retiree Activities Office. I wish I could make it required reading for all those who come in for claims assistance.
GILBERT AGUIRRE Via email
I thought the article "Principi: Eligibility Explosion Behind VA Backlog" was excellent! It did an outstanding job of identifying, explaining and discussing the cogent facts and issues in this ongoing "mess" of VA benefits.
It made a very good point that we Vietnam vets need to have a "timeline" for submitting Agent Orange claims. It's hardly equitable for someone who served one day "in country" to be able to file a claim 40 years later for heart disease!
H. DITTMAN Professor, Major, USAF-Ret. Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Please pass along my appreciation, congratulations and admiration for the article on Mr. Principi's speech exposing the outrageous "generosity" of politically motivated veterans benefits, the real reason for the claims backlog.
J. TARRENTS Via email
It's about time somebody had the guts to address this to a broad audience. Unfortunately, it sounds like it fell on deaf ears.
No American today wants their "free stuff" taken away or even talked about. The less attention this issue gets, the better it is for those receiving benefits on the backs of hard working American taxpayers.
The moral ethics and character of a person are supposed to include integrity, something our country sadly lacks today.
JEFF GOTTLOB Via email
Finally, somebody at the VA [or at least somebody who once led the VA] has said aloud what I've been saying all along. Mr. Principi is absolutely correct as to why there is a claims backlog. Your articles are the very first ones I have seen that address abuses on filing these claims.
I know a few trying to get on this "cash cow" wagon. When the decision was made to make more common-aging diseases presumptive for exposure to Agent Orange, based even on one day spent in Vietnam, I knew the claims process was going to be overwhelmed.
In 1993 I was assigned to provide coverage for the supervisor of the Agent Orange/Persian Gulf Registry. I had to clean up a three-year backlog of veterans waiting for medical exams, needed to file claims for Agent Orange exposure. It took three months but I got that backlog down to nine months.
Mr. Principi has opened the door on a monster that has existed since Congress got involved in the rating process. The VA slogan "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan" is a joke now. A majority of VA patients and claim recipients never served in combat. Real veterans have to stand in line behind scammers and milkers of the system. I am elated that Mr. Principi is trying to bring this into the open but I know what he's up against.
I especially applaud you, Mr. Philpott, for having the courage to print this article.
BARBARA HATHAWAY Via email
I totally agree with Mr. Principi. Being a former VA rating specialist and decision review officer and, following retirement, being rehired as a member of the Tiger Team to work over-age-70 claims, it really bothered me to service connect diseases that happened because of aging, and not because of service in Vietnam. But because of the law it was my duty to grant it.
The VA got away from granting service connection only for true veterans wounded in war and continues to push all these claims for presumptive conditions not related to war but to age and family history.
Changes need to be made very soon.
GERALD FISHER Via email
The many veterans service organizations such as Disabled American Veterans and American Legion have set up "cottage industries" inside the VA disability claims system, and that has all gone amuck. We are seeing more cases of veterans, male in particular, living full lives and holding good jobs up until they retire from age 60 to 70. Then all of a sudden, "Oh geez, I must have PTSD or Agent Orange exposure." It's ridiculous.
People are trapped in the VA claims system for decades at a time. The valid and legitimate claims can easily be identified and sorted from aging fraud cases from those who woke up one morning at age 70 with aches and pains. Male veterans, in particular, cannot smoke tobacco, drink straight whiskey, ignore vitamins over a lifetime and expect to escape heart disease and everything else when reaching retirement age.
SUE FRASIER Albany, New York
I am about to retire after a long career in the Defense and VA health care systems. Your article on former VA Secretary Anthony Principi's call to restore trust in VA claim system was spot on. I can only hope that like-minded people can do something to fix the mess. I truly like what I do for veterans. However, many times a day I have to silently shake my head in wonder as to why we give so much to some and not more to others.
Some medical conditions just happen with age. I am starting to get osteoarthritis; it happens! I am not going to file a claim for that just because I once served. I hear over and over, from a son or daughter having to care for dad or mom, say they remembered their parent was in the service. So what can the VA do for him or her now? Many times when these moms or dads got out of service, 30 or 40 years ago, they were just fine. Current medical conditions have absolutely nothing to do with time in the military.
Some people have a genetic make up that predisposes them to certain medical conditions. I recently talked with a veteran, about 30 years old, who said he felt guilty the VA gave him 40 percent service-connected disability for gout. Later that day I saw a veteran who had 40 percent rating for getting his leg and arm blown off in Iraq. I have seen veterans who made an Army career giving haircuts, and then received VA ratings for tinnitus or arthritis.
Please understand I don't care what a veteran did to serve our country. But those who were in combat need more consideration than those who were not or have conditions that would occur if they whether they were in the military or not.
I was in the military when we were at peace. I hold the highest respect for those who in combat. They deserve more than me. Many times the people I see faking illness or exaggerating conditions are non-combat vets. Many of my friends who served in time of war tell me they never wanted to ask VA for anything because it would take away from those more deserving. If only they knew of all the people who should not be receiving VA care – and yet do. These friends just might feel differently.
As your article points out the VA system needs to be fixed.
A. D. Via email