Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made paying benefits a priority and needs a hard kick from Congress to clean up its act.

The veterans benefits system is a century-old behemoth that has not kept pace with the times or the demands on its resources. As the New York Times reported Tuesday, the system pays out more than $78 billion each year to 5 million beneficiaries. But there also are more than 470,000 veterans who have been denied benefits and appealed — and their cases are grinding through the claims process at a glacial pace, with some cases taking years if not decades to resolve.

It would be one thing if the backlog was caused by complex cases or fraud. But according to the department, the main cause of the delays is a design flaw that fed appeals with simple errors into a legal system designed to handle more complicated cases. Thousands of cases corrupted by no more than typographical errors have jammed up the flow, causing the processing of cases to slow, and for wait times to grow longer. The New York Times reported scores of cases have waited 25 years for an answer; and another 22 have been waiting more than three decades.

A new law Congress passed this summer seeks to expedite the process by assigning claims to one of three tracks depending on the complexity of an appeal. The department intends to hire hundreds of additional staff in the coming months to speed up the appeals process. But lawyers involved say the reforms miss a fundamental problem: Cases are so plagued with a vast number of errors that they end up getting bounced around the system for years as officials work to clean up the details. With so many flaws on the front end, advocates fear the reforms will fall short and that Congress will move on.

In a report published this year, the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, noted the VA was taking steps to speed up the decisionmaking process. But it also noted that the caseload for the Board of Veterans Appeals — the final arbiter of cases — had grown about 20 percent from 2014 to 2015, and that without stronger action, average delays could increase by 50 percent or more, to beyond eight years, by 2026.

The VA said it is working across a broad front to improve its staffing and response times. But these are systemic problems going back years and ingrained in the VA culture. A Gainesville man who hurt his back 34 years ago while serving in the Coast Guard got something of a reprieve after Sen. Bill Nelson intervened in his case. But it shouldn’t fall to veterans or to individual lawmakers to hound the agency into doing its job. The system needs to function in a fair, timely manner for everybody.

The Trump administration and Congress need to follow through on these reforms, give the VA the resources it needs and hold the agency accountable. Men and women in uniform injured in service to their country should not have to wait years to get the benefits they have earned.

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Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18