Army Sergeant Jeremy Barnhart says anyone wanting to know what it’s like to deal with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can get a clue from the FedEx packages that land on the front porch of his San Antonio home.
They tell him when to show up for mental health assessments that help determine his benefits eligibility. If the time conflicts with his college classes, a VA benefit helping him prepare for a new career, he says he can’t change the appointment directly by phone. He can only call up and say it doesn’t work, and wait for another package giving him his new time.
“How many circles do I have to run in to get the care that I need?” said Barnhart, 39, who served as a medic and is studying to become a physician’s assistant. “It’s a powerless feeling to be in a system like this.”
President Barack Obama has pledged to serve veterans “as well as they’ve served us.” Yet to veterans like Barnhart the VA’s bureaucracy can bring more agony than reward. With as many as 1 million troops due to become veterans in the next five years, on top of the 22.3 million already in the system, the agency is staggering under backlogs in disability compensation claims, bottlenecks in mental health care and criticism over a general lack of accountability.
On this day of observance for Veterans’ Day, see the full Bloomberg.com report on Veterans Affairs.