- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Retiring military personnel seeking medical care at Veterans Affairs facilities face bureaucratic obstacles that delay and sometimes unfairly deny them needed treatment, senators testified on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Lost records, the lack of a compatible computer system linking the VA with the Department of Defense and separate systems for rating claims have created serious backlogs in service, senators said at a joint hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services committees.

“As service members transition from the military to the VA, they face hurdles and roadblocks that no veteran should face,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

VA and Defense officials acknowledge the problems and say they have initiated a program called “seamless transition” to assist seriously injured troops who are leaving active duty and filing medical claims with the VA.

“The VA has worked hard to improve the transition process,” said Daniel L. Cooper, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits. “Yet we are not satisfied that we have achieved all that is possible.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced the hiring of 100 “transition patient advocates” to help severely injured troops navigate the claims process.

Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said improving the transfer of medical records between agencies is an important first step in getting treatment for troops at VA facilities.

“In this age of technology, it seems inexcusable that injured service members are asked to fill out the same forms over and over again, or to endure long waits while records from different facilities are located and transferred,” he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said President Bush has appointed an independent panel to study the “full life-cycle treatment for wounded veterans returning from the battlefield.”

Mr. England said his department is prepared to propose legislation to Congress to fix the problems.

Senators say more must be achieved to ensure that injured service personnel receive swift and comprehensive medical care once they are discharged from active duty.

“So many of these men and women feel confused. They’re almost paralyzed by the overwhelming nature ” of applying for VA benefits, said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said service problems made public at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are systemic at military and veterans facilities nationwide.

Mr. England said the Defense Department initiated a “major internal review” of the care for wounded troops after the problems at Walter Reed were reported in the press.

“Despite good-faith efforts … it is evident that some of our valued servicemen and women, particularly those with war injuries, are not receiving the level of care they deserve,” Mr. England said.

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