by Rick Percoco
In July, 2007 I transitioned from my four year Navy enlistment back into the civilian world. I will spare you a long drawn out story about my Navy experience, but lets just say it was interesting to say the least. After struggling for about a year trying to transition and get accustomed to civilian life, I finally went to my local VA hospital for help, and filed for disability with the VBA. Let me tell you, VA didn’t make a very good first impression, and it continued to get worse after that.
After a few years under my belt dealing with both the VHA and VBA, I finally understand the reasons why they aren’t able to run things as efficient as they need to, in order to meet the needs of all of us. VA is way too understaffed to handle the ever growing needs of Veterans. Washington isn’t properly funding VA to be able to operate smoothly. And last, but equally as important as the others, the organizations and groups that all have a part in supporting military Veterans aren’t working together for the common cause. These groups include DoD, VA, the President along with the House and Senate, and private organizations there to help Veterans.
With the economy, and the financial debt crisis in Washington the way it is, we need to think of creative new ways to take care of our needs. That is why I have created a system that I feel is as close to fail safe as one can get. The time for Washington to bicker and fight like immature teenagers is over. This country needs stuff done, and done now. Obviously our elected officials are not professional enough to handle everything themselves, so it is time WE THE PEOPLE come together and take action. Read my proposal and please comment with your thoughts, good or bad.
1.) Disabled American Veterans, a not-for-profit organization, has over 1600 local chapters across the country. They have over 1.3 million active members who are ready, willing and able to help Veterans with whatever they need. The DAV already helps Veterans with disability claims, transportation to and from medical appointments, and a variety of other services that help Veterans. The DAV is made up of tens of thousands of volunteers who volunteer throughout the 1600 local chapters who are already doing everything they can to help Veterans for FREE. Why not bump this up a notch by allowing them to become certified to build a Veterans disability claim? I mean they are practically already doing this anyway, why not bring this service down to each local DAV chapter?
2.) With this being said, there is pretty much only one regional office for every state in the US. This means that a large number of claims and educational benefits applications, among other things, are being filtered into one building with a small amount of people working them. The way this system is set up, back logs and long wait times are inevitable. However, by spreading all the services offered at the regional offices, and the employees down to the local DAV chapter’s level, and allowing and training the DAV members and volunteers to assist VA, we create a more local atmosphere that is far more efficient then having one large location per state.
3.) Most of the disability backlogs are because VA reps at the regional offices have to build Veterans claims file. This means they have to request information from VHA or VA hospitals, which now runs with a completely different system than VBA. Why? I don’t know. They have to request military records from archives, and medical information from private doctors. My proposal for a solution to this problem is this:
All 25 million living military Vets will need to check into the DAV chapter that covers the area they live in. They will have their military records sent from archives down to a secure part of the local DAV chapter building, so just in case they file for disability, their service and medical records are already present for the DAV volunteer to organize and build as part of the Veterans claim file. Or as part of the answer to whatever question needed looking up. Then each local chapter will have access to the systems network VHA uses for Veterans medical records. Therefore, all they will need to do is sign into a computer, punch in the Veterans information, and pull whatever medical information that is relevant to the disability claim. That right there is months of waiting wrapped up into days if not hours. Then all they will be waiting on is the medical documents from the private doctors. All this and the added value of the new VLER system, will allow the time being spent building ones claim will be reduced by months. Once the DAV rep has finishes building the claim, it will get passed onto the VA employees at that same location for final inspection and decision. Everything is done in house at the local chapter location.
4.) Now seeing as how each location only deals with the Veterans who live in their area, a Veteran in need will have more of a one-on-one relationship with the DAV reps at their local location for help and mentorship with whatever they need. Now not all of the 25 million living military Vets need help. If everything is okay then all they will need to do is once a year check in with their local chapter, fill out and sign a form saying they don’t need any help, and within minutes they are out the door until the next year. They will have the option to volunteer to help other Vets in need, which will increase the amount of local people a Vet in need can call and come to for help. Because of this, more Veterans will be accounted for seeing as how every Veteran will have to, by law, check in to their local chapter. This will create a system where we can see who is homeless and in need. And most importantly if a Veteran is suicidal, they can have a list of other local Veterans to call for immediate help, rather than having the only resource being the suicide prevention hotline.
Now if all 25 million Veterans have to pay a membership fee, or kind of more like a Veteran tax of say $50 per year, then there will be an additional $1.25 billion annually into helping Veterans. If we make it that every Vet has to pay just a $1 a day, or $360 per year, then an additional $9 billion annually will be raised to help support Vets. This is just an idea to help get more money into VA to help Veterans.
Now obviously, I can’t just make this a reality myself. Our elected officials need to pass this idea and make this into law, and of course our Commander in Chief needs to sign off on it. With this being said, Congress needs to hear that more than just myself feel that this type of system will be more effective than the one currently in place.
I am thinking of starting an organization to bring Americans together for this cause. Once a member you can give me and my organization permission to write your local representative on your behalf. The letter will include a copy of my proposal, along with a statement saying you support the idea and want to see this become reality.
What do you think about my plan to combine a lot of different systems and organizations to create a more local environment to help our Vets? Also, if you are in favor of this system would you be willing to join an organization that would help bring this to our elected official’s front door? Demanding that Americans from every corner of the US want this to become a reality, and that we are not going to stop writing them until it happens.
Rick Percoco is a 26-year-old disabled U.S. Navy Veteran who lives in the Norfolk, VA area. He was a part of the last F-14 Tomcat deployment before decommissioning in 2006. He was with an F-14 squadron attached to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.