As the VA scandal grows, and the administration lies about the position of The American Legion, I recall how I saw government insistence on numbers, at the expense of people’s lives, firsthand.
Almost a year ago that I stood in the office of the advocate, who worked for a Veteran’s organization, in a Department of Veteran’s Affairs building in Washington, D.C. My education of how government, when run amok, will treat its Veterans was about to begin.
The advocate was a fine young man and enjoyed his work, even with the many disability claims cases on his desk. He saw Veterans disability claims and as a Veteran’s advocate, he helped Veteran’s with legal and medical research without charge to the Veteran, and regardless of whether the Veteran was a member of his organization. The advocate was a Veteran, too, and handled his cases thoroughly. I was constantly amazed by the diligence he and his colleagues had in regards to helping advocate for their fellow Veterans after seeing little but huge case files, day after day, for years.
A call came into the advocate’s office from the office of one of the Veteran’s judges who works for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in the same building. One of the judge’s staffers said that the case needed to be brought back because the judge was ready to render a decision. Cases that Veteran’s organizations assist with are normally given an appropriate amount of time so that the advocate can look at the case file, conduct appropriate legal and medical research, and write a brief on behalf of the Veteran claiming disability. This was not the case, no pun intended.
The advocate tried explaining that he had only recently received the case, was at the very beginning stages of reviewing the file, and was well within the window of time of reviewing the case, writing a brief for the judge, and returning the case to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
The government bureaucrat on the other end of the phone line said that it did not matter and that the case needed to be at the judge’s office for decision in one hour. The advocate became visibly upset over this intrusion of government power and tried explaining the situation to the bureaucrat but to no avail. Faced with little choice, the advocate immediately began working on the case.
Not more than five minutes later that someone, ostensibly the same bureaucrat who made the phone call to the advocate, appeared in the office area of the Veterann’s organization. The bureaucrat demanded the file. Faced with little choice, as the file legally belongs to the U.S. government (actually it belongs to the Veteran and the American People), the advocate had to surrender the file to the bureaucrat. No brief was written, no advocacy had been performed, but the time to reduce a claim backlog surely was achieved. The numbers were now in the system, and the system would never lie. Perhaps a bonus could even be given for those who merely did their job and had their numbers.
The advocate became visibly upset when he began telling me about the only part of the man’s file that he had been able to research before the government intrusion. The advocate had been able to find out basic information about the Veteran. The Veteran was a male in his mid-80’s.
The advocate said, with a mix of sadness, sarcasm, and anger I had never seen in him, “It is nothing to them (the Department of Veteran’s Affairs). It is just an 85 year old man. He will probably die soon anyway. But that’s ok. He’s just an 85 year old man”
Meanwhile Veterans were dying around the country, and bonuses were being given, because the numbers looked good.
*Views expressed in this article are those of the author.