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Yesterday, I sat on a blogger roundtable call with Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Tammy Duckworth and Deputy Director of Education Services Lynn Nelson. The topic was the much publicized problems Veterans are encountering in being payed the benefits to which they are entitled to under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The call was respectful, but heated. Vets from several different new media outlets and organizations aired their grievances candidly. To their credit, the VA representatives on the call took the criticism in stride, acknowledged fault and agreed that the situation was unacceptable. They explained that this weekend alone, 900 workers would be working 3,000 hours of overtime to help process GI Bill claims and bring the VA closer to their self-imposed 25-day goal for processing.

This was all well and good, and it was nice to hear the VA was doing something to fix the problem. That in itself was a breath of fresh air after the conditions under which the VA had been run in the previous administration. The humility of the VA on this occasion and their commitment to fix the problem alone are praiseworthy.

But I wasn’t satisfied.

As the call was coming closer to an end, it seemed to me that VA wasn’t quite getting the problem exactly. They understood that they had a system full of angry Vets who weren’t getting paid, but it didn’t seem to me that they understood how many Vets were struggling because they weren’t getting paid. So I decided to personalize the situation for them.

I told them that I had submitted the proper paperwork on the 5th of August and still had not received my housing allowance, nor had my school received my tuition payment. This means I had to pay tuition out of pocket, and have not received any of my housing entitlement for things like food and rent. I explained that this is well beyond the 25 day processing goal, as well as the the current 35 day period that VA reports as the current average. I explained that I have gone into exorbitant credit card debt and taken out loans just to get by this semester. I informed them that I had $120 in my checking account and that rent is due next week. I asked the VA representatives what they had to say to Vets in this situation.

At this point, Deputy Director Nelson let me know they could get with me after the call to insure I was taken care of. "Thank you", I said. "But that isn’t what I want. I can’t be the only Veteran in this situation. What are you going to say to the other Vets who are struggling like me?" I was informed that the VA was working to fix the problem.

I was skeptical. But today, fix the problem they did:

WASHINGTON - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment.  The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting Oct. 2, 2009.
"Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties," Secretary Shinseki said.  "Education creates life-expanding opportunities for our Veterans."
Starting Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, students can go to one of VA's 57 regional benefit offices with a photo ID, a course schedule and an eligibility certificate to request advance payment of their housing and book allowance.  Because not all these offices are located near students, VA expects to send representatives to schools with large Veteran-student bodies and work with Veteran Service Organizations to help students with transportation needs.
A list of those VA regional offices is available at www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp.

I don't pretend to believe that my question alone led to this decision. It was but one voice in a course of grassroots complaints aired to the VA by many bloggers and organizations on that call, combined with the reported voices in media of Veterans all across the country who have been struggling under a failing system.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone on that call or in the Vet community in general expected this. I know I didn’t. The VA has shown what can be done when the agency actually cares what happens to the Veterans it serves.  During the last administration, it took major scandals to get anything fixed in the Department, and then it was never corrected at this level.

On behalf of myself, and the entire Veteran community, I want to extend a personal thank you to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Assistant Secretary Duckworth and Deputy Director Nelson for making this happen, and ensuring those of us who sacrificed in uniform for our country get the assistance we deserve.

Originally posted to Richard Smith on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 04:29 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Dude, that's awesome: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Alexandra Lynch, llbear, jlms qkw

      I'm a vet.
      I went to school on the VA.
      And you're getting your check on my 50th birthday.

      Congratulations!

      Now, have they made any practical suggestions about how you're supposed to not get thrown out your crib between now and the time whatever place you take the check will give you a way to pay your rent?

      Texas: Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Lady Bird & LBJ, Ann Richards, Sam Rayburn, Dan Rather, Ike, Sully Sullenberger, Lloyd Bentsen. It's No Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 08:46:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you don't speak up... (7+ / 0-)

    You will never get heard.

    Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace - Dali Lama The voice of silence does as much damage as hateful words - myself

    by doingbusinessas on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 04:47:24 PM PDT

  •  (((((((((((((((((((((Richard))))))))))))))))))))) (7+ / 0-)

    Great job, Richard !

    Great job, General Shinseki and VA !

         Hugs,
         For Dan,
         Heather

    Planning a March for Accountability

    by Chacounne on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 04:51:57 PM PDT

  •  FWIW (12+ / 0-)

    Someone I was talking to quoted a figure to me.  He said "The VA saves an average of $1.6 million per veteran if they commit suicide."

    I am a Vietnam veteran.  I spent thirty five years avoiding other veterans, the VA, and the system in general, perfering to stay "under the radar."  My life turned for the better when my present wife came into it.  I sort of floated along with her choices in life.  

    At one point I met a guy who turned out to be a vet from the same war, an Apache guy who was working with Native American vets.  He got me to face I had problems stemming from my service, and to get started on a claim at the VA Hosptial in that area for a back injury I suffered in Nam and was on record.  

    I plugged away at it for two years, sometimes with three or more appointments a week.  I lived one mile under the distance that paid travel pay, but kept at it.  My claim went to adjudication three times, first time rejected, second time 10%, two years into it.  Then I met someone else and became friends, a person who turned out to be a retired Rear Admiral, a veteran of the same war.  After a time the topic of my claim came up in his and my getting-to-know-you conversations.  He made one call without my knowledge or instigation, and within a month my claim came through 100%.

    Over the years I had always heard one had to know someone high up to get any real help through the VA, a Senator or someone.  Not many of them under the radar in the levels of society I habituated, or where my wife's decisions took us.  

    I feel for the men and women veterans these days.  I have a good idea of what they are going through.  There is hope the system will honor its debt to them.  I will believe it will when I see it.  Thank you for sharing this diary.

    Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

    by Riddlebaugh on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 05:06:06 PM PDT

    •  I hope you can take the time.... (4+ / 0-)

      to write more about your experiences...all of them, if you can.
      Americans need to hear about the struggles that ALL veterans have had throughout history.

      You can be a valuable resource for other vets, as well as the civilians.

      Thanks.

      You can support the troops at Votevets.org

      by rickeagle on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 07:09:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, it is easier than most subjects (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        operculum, jlms qkw

        for me to write about.  I'm willing to, but where?  I could use some direction once there, like topic areas.  The idea of my whole experience is a little overwhelming.

        Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

        by Riddlebaugh on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 11:44:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Come to VetVoice (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          operculum, jlms qkw, Riddlebaugh

          the blog of VoteVets.org

          Just like dkos, you can set up an account and write you're own diaries.

          VetVoice.com

          VetVoice, a project of VoteVets.org

          I used to be RockRichard.

          by Richard Smith on Sat Sep 26, 2009 at 03:39:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  VetVoice. Thanks. I'll check it out. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jlms qkw

            Site format isn't any kind of stickler about writing for me, although I'm sure similarity to kos format is convenient.  What gets me is where to start, what subjects to cover.  And, besides me getting lost in words when there is nothing being responded to, and a general lack of grammer or spelling expertese, I tend to be long winded once I get started.  

            I mean, for instance, it seems to me part of the PTSD process begins with where one's head and life is at before they even sign up for the service.  It defines the forms the known symptoms take.  That starts looking like an ego oriented autobiography.

            Because of the nature of my pre-service life experience, I went to Spirit when I couldn't find anything or anyone to ground me in the material world.  So what I say is often taken as delusional self-righteousness, if not just spaced out lying (not that I give a shit about any audience--I just don't want to venture in where I will not be wanted or appreciated); I avoid all forms of institutional religion, and see Spirit only as an individual matter of authority claimed over one's experience and oneself, and power applied.

            Which gives my rap something even my VA shrink has a hard time relating to as a service oriented condition: I was shed from the appointment book like an old skin with the statement "Call me when you have an emergency need to talk, and I'll fit you in for fifteen minutes in the earliest possible slot."  

            I'm willing to write on VetVoice, but I need a little help with where to take the first step.  Maybe the reason for that hesitation is when I newly arrived in-country I was allowed by the men under and over me to walk into a known mine field, them standing on the edge of it laughing, some south vietnamese soldier who spoke no English the only one willing to lead me out of it.    

            That said, I understand that you probably want the original voice of the writers, and that's all I'm willing to give.

             

            Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

            by Riddlebaugh on Sat Sep 26, 2009 at 09:16:16 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The voice of one.... (7+ / 0-)

    speaks for many.  Good job Richard!

    "Free your mind and the rest will follow...Before you can read me you gotta learn how to see me" En Vogue

    by VeloVixen on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 06:15:20 PM PDT

  •  Time to reconnect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw

    e-mail me at
    jack
    1009
    at
    msn
    dot
    com

    I've got background info for you
    on this.

    Committing the crime of torture mandates punishment. Covering up a crime is a crime. That must stop NOW.

    by llbear on Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 10:00:57 PM PDT

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