Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday criticized America’s current veterans benefit system as being too focused on providing financial rewards to sick people instead of helping them overcome these challenges to be successful. after the army.
“We are focused on getting checks from veterans and not getting them right and getting them back into society,” he said at a US university event on Tuesday.
“The purpose of VA is to care for those… who have suffered as a direct result of their military service. In my experience, the encouragement of many of the [support] groups give to people leaving the ward, it’s almost as if they are encouraging them to play handicap. And it’s incredibly destructive to the system.
He suggested that the list of injuries and illnesses qualifying veterans for financial support may be too long, with problems that are more attributable to aging than to military deployments. This in turn encourages veterans to seek payments from the VA instead of finding ways to work and integrate into civilian life.
The comments came during a panel discussion with Daniel Gade, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and former Virginia Senate candidate, about his new book on the veterans system. The volume is titled “Wounding Warriors: How Bad Policy Makes American Veterans Sicker and Poorer”.
About 40 percent of all post-9/11 veterans have some type of service-related disability, compared to about 26 percent of all veterans in America today, according to Department of Labor estimates.
Wilkie, who headed Veterans Affairs for nearly three years under President Donald Trump, described the department as “incredibly resistant to reform” and lambasted veteran lobbyists as compounding the problem with their perspective. on the constant expansion of benefits and services, rather than catering. veterans with specific military needs.
“We put those who hold the Purple Heart at the forefront when it comes to compensation and compensation decisions,” he said. “The screams of the professional class were deafening, as was the response from many members of Congress, because they believe that anyone who wears a uniform should be treated like everyone else.
“It is a disconnect that we, as a nation, must resolve.”
Wilkie said his work as head of the department helped reform some of these practices, but not enough.
Gade, a White House staff member during President George W. Bush’s administration, said his book is designed to address discussions of sweeping reforms within the veterans disability process, including the ‘idea that veterans should get compensation or treatment for illnesses that are not directly related to military injuries.
“We pay veterans to be sick, and then we ask ourselves why we have so many sick veterans,” he said.
The comments from the two came at the same time as current VA Secretary Denis McDonough gave the annual “State of the VA” address ahead of the Veterans Day holiday. In it, McDonough swore that “no [veteran] will have to fight to get the quality care, benefits and services they have won.
Veterans Affairs officials processed more than one million disability claims in the past fiscal year, setting a new record of cases, but saw a growing backlog of overdue claims decisions as delays pandemic-related and new eligibility rules have increased staff workload.
Wilkie said improvements cannot be made without fundamental changes in the way veterans groups and lawmakers view the system. But he also targeted “lobbyists in Washington” focused on veterans’ issues as an obstacle to reform rather than allies.
Most of these veteran groups called for Wilkie’s resignation during his final weeks in office, after a series of internal inquiries found he had mismanaged sexual assault complaints filed by a member of Congress who was visiting the Washington, DC VA medical center.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.