USA TODAY US Edition

Snafus hinder veterans’ care, study finds

- By Gregg Zoroya USA TODAY

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.

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