Sometimes I think we could turn this blog into a chronicle of dysfunction at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and never run short of material. The latest case in point: Last week’s Associated Press report detailing how veterans performing work-study duties while attending college are facing lengthy delays in getting paid by the VA.
The amounts owed are small—the vets are paid minimum wage to help out in campus veterans’ service offices, in most cases—but for those who are working while they pursue degrees, the money is a critical lifeline for them and their families. It shouldn’t be difficult for the VA to honor their contracts and pay on a timely basis.
Six veterans interviewed by The Associated Press reported delays of up to two months in getting a paycheck or getting approval for the contract allowing them to hold a work-study job. They also complained of long waits on hold when calling about the checks and contracts.
Veterans at the University of Colorado, Denver, keep score to see “who cannot get paid the longest,” said Metcalf, an Air Force veteran who has a work-study job. The record is 90 days.
The veterans find various work-arounds when their checks are late, from getting emergency loans to temporarily getting on their college’s payroll.
Loki Jones, an Army Special Forces veteran who served in Iraq, said he had to borrow money to pay his rent last spring because his work-study check was about three months late.
Jones, a student at the University of Colorado, Denver, said his contract was lost and then his time card was held up at least twice, once because he failed to initial parts of it.
“If I hadn’t gotten that emergency loan, if that hadn’t gone through, I would have gotten kicked out of my apartment for sure,” he said.
The VA claims processing delays due to a lack of personnel, because the VA blames all its failures on a lack of personnel—despite the fact that the department has added 4,000 new employees since 2008.
Late payments to students may seem like a relatively small issue, until you consider the fact that the VA also has a backlog of some 890,000 claims for veterans’ benefits, with some vets waiting up to a year or more for their benefits. Or when you consider that we’ve heard recently about how the VA routinely overpays some beneficiaries, while others go begging.
Or when you recall the scandal of the two 2011 training conferences the VA hosted in Orlando, Fla., at a cost of more than $6.1 million, which were rife with waste, fraud and ethical infractions. The VA’s top administrative official resigned in disgrace following those revelations.
Altogether, the evidence points toward a department that is unable to deliver on its mission of service to veterans due to poor leadership, bureaucratic dysfunction and outright incompetence. Our veterans deserve better.
Regardless of who emerges as the winner in the November 6 elections, the next presidential administration and Congress must make a priority of working together to clean house at the VA and bring real transformation to the troubled department. It’s long past time.
Darin Selnick, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is an independent consultant and a member of the Concerned Veterans for America’s organizing committee.