USA TODAY US Edition
Snafus hinder veterans’ care, study finds
A program to help coordinate lifelong care for the most severely wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may not be getting to all the people who need it because of poor communication between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, says a government study released Wednesday.
Eligible veterans are not easily identified because the Pentagon and VA have no specific classification for “severely wounded, ill or injured” servicemembers, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study says.
The program provides a social worker or nurse to shepherd veterans through a bureaucratic maze that can involve years of follow-up care, rehabilitation and disability assessments to ensure the best options for care.
The program was the No. 1 recommendation of a 2007 presidential commission created in response to news media reports that the wounded were getting lost in the military health care system.
The VA created the coordinator positions in 2008. Since then, the VA has not come up with a system for identifying the most severely wounded candidates at military hospitals and bringing them into the program, the study says.
“That makes if difficult . . . to de- termine who is eligible for the program,” says Randall Williamson, who led the investigation.
Instead, the VA relies on referrals from military hospitals and other programs, and the case coordinators figure out who should be enrolled, the report says. The referrals doubled from 25 per month in 2008 to 50 per month last year.
“The bottom line is that the VA and the Pentagon need to do a better job of working together to determine clear criteria for this program so that we aren’t leaving veterans to fend for themselves,” says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
VA officials concurred with the GAO findings and said it was correcting the problems. The Pentagon said a committee has been formed to improve coordination between the Defense Department and VA.
Other problems identified by the investigation:
- The VA does know how many case coordinators it needs. As of September, 20 coordinators weremanaging the cases of about 600 injured or ill servicemembers and veterans. Caseworkers complained of being overworked and unable to devote enough time to each case.
-Coordinators say they must wait weeks or months for equipment to do their job, including basic needs such as a computer and phone.