Is­raelis show tourists a dif­fer­ent world

Pales­tini­ans help re­veal how the peo­ple can bring peace

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY NATHAN PORTER

JERUSALEM | Is­rael’s con­tin­ued sta­bil­ity and growth may fall pri­mar­ily on the un­likely shoul­ders of peo­ple like Tsipi Se­gal.

Ms. Se­gal is nei­ther a politi­cian nor a diplo­mat — she’s a tour guide.

Amid grow­ing re­gional in­sta­bil­ity, with many Is­raelis feel­ing in­creas­ingly alone and mis­un­der­stood in the world, the coun­try’s global im­age of­ten is fil­tered through the grind­ing stand­off with the Pales­tini­ans — shaped more by sen­sa­tional YouTube videos and me­dia cov­er­age than re­al­ity. Fight­ing those mis­con­cep­tions is what Ms. Se­gal does — one tour group at a time.

“The most im­por­tant thing to con­vey to the peo­ple is that, on a daily ba­sis, [Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans] live to­gether, and we earn our daily bread to­gether,” said Ms. Se­gal, an Is­raeli Chris­tian, born and raised in Jerusalem.

Ms. Se­gal’s grand­par­ents im­mi­grated to the Jerusalem area from Greece and Rus­sia shortly af­ter the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Both of her par­ents fought for Is­raeli in­de­pen­dence in the years af­ter World War II.

than the 125-day bench­mark.

The VA fell about 100,000 claims short of its goal for pro­cess­ing in fis­cal year 2013.

How­ever, the only rea­son it didn’t fall fur­ther be­hind was be­cause the agency re­ceived 270,000 fewer claims than it was ex­pect­ing for the year. Had the VA re­ceived the num­ber of claims it was ex­pect­ing, the back­log could have been close to 1 mil­lion.

The agency has had some suc­cess in re­duc­ing its back­log. Both the to­tal num­ber of claims and the num­ber of claims older than 125 days have each de­creased by about 100,000 since The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported on the back­log last year.

“Vet­er­ans shouldn’t have to wait for the ben­e­fits they’ve earned,” VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­seki said. “We still have more work to do, but we are mak­ing clear progress.”

In Mon­day’s Vet­er­ans Day speech at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery, Mr. Obama said his ad­min­is­tra­tion would al­ways work to im­prove con­di­tions for vet­er­ans.

“We’re go­ing to keep re­duc­ing the claims back­log,” the pres­i­dent said. “We’ve slashed it by a third since March, and we’re go­ing to keep at it so you can get the ben­e­fits that you have earned and that you need, when you need them.”

The VA has re­duced its back­log amount — though call­ing the im­prove­ment “a third” is round­ing up — from March when 70 per­cent of its claims were wait­ing longer than 125 days.

Pro­cess­ing prob­lems

But more claims be­ing pro­cessed doesn’t al­ways mean they are be­ing pro­cessed ef­fec­tively. Over the past year, the VA’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, its in­ter­nal watch­dog, has found a long list of the depart­ment’s re­gional of­fices mis­han­dling dis­abil­ity claims, mak­ing mis­takes such as not re­quest­ing enough med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, or pos­si­bly giv­ing ben­e­fits to peo­ple who didn’t qual­ify.

At the of­fice in Musko­gee, Okla., investigators found 42 per­cent of claims were mis­han­dled. In Houston, it was 62 per­cent. The rates were high in other of­fices as well: 40 per­cent for Al­bu­querque, N.M.; 25 per­cent for Jack­son, Miss.; 46 per­cent for Boise, Idaho; 45 per­cent for Ne­wark, N.J.

In Oc­to­ber, the House passed a bill that would es­tab­lish a task force to an­a­lyze the root causes of the VA’s con­tin­ual back­log. The near-unan­i­mous vote has sent the leg­is­la­tion to the Se­nate, where it is be­ing con­sid­ered by the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

“Gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crats un­der both Repub­li­can and Demo­crat ad­min­is­tra­tions cre­ated the back­log, so it’s only nat­u­ral to so­licit out­side help from the pri­vate sec­tor and the vet­er­ans ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion com­mu­nity in work­ing to­ward a so­lu­tion,” Mr. Miller said.

“There is no easy quick fix to the claims back­log,” said Rep. Michael H. Michaud of Maine, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House com­mit­tee. “While progress is be­ing made, this leg­is­la­tion pro­vides the VA with the ad­di­tional tools it needs to help reach its goal of end­ing the back­log by 2015.”

In 1997, the VA had about 5,000 field em­ploy­ees, each of whom was able to process about 135 claims per year, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment bud­get sub­mis­sions and Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­ports. In 2012, the VA has about three times as many field em­ploy­ees, each ac­com­plish­ing only about half the work and pro­cess­ing an es­ti­mated 73 claims per year.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly ex­pressed op­ti­mism that it can fix the long-stand­ing is­sues at the VA, and the agency has a goal of elim­i­nat­ing all back­logged claims by 2015.

In the past few years, VA of­fi­cials have tried to deal with an in­flux of claims. First, the depart­ment faced thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als re­quest­ing ben­e­fits aris­ing from ser­vice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2010, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­panded ben­e­fits to in­clude those af­fected by Agent Orange used in Viet­nam. Ex­po­sure to the heav­ily used pes­ti­cide is be­lieved to be linked to can­cer, neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and birth de­fects.

Claims from the Viet­nam War era rep­re­sent the largest share of VA’s pend­ing work­load, at 36 per­cent.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Typhoon sur­vivors jos­tle to get a chance to board a C-130 mil­i­tary trans­port plane Tues­day that would fly them away from the de­struc­tion in Ta­cloban caused by the mon­strous storm that roared through the Philip­pines on Fri­day. Story, A11.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den met with five ac­tive- duty ser­vice mem­bers in the Dis­trict on Tues­day. De­spite the prom­ises, more than 700,000 for­mer ser­vice­men and women are wait­ing for med­i­cal ben­e­fits be­cause of a back­logged sys­tem that takes an av­er­age of 300 days to nav­i­gate.

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