Senators blast DoD, VA for bad coordination

Post date: May 20, 2011 4:33:22 PM

Harry Hamburg / The Associated Press Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III listens to Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Gould testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill on May 18.

Courtesy of May 18, 2011

Combat veterans are being poorly served as a result of weak coordination between the Defense and Veteran Affairs departments, a key senator said Wednesday.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairwoman, said drug abuse and suicides among recently separated combat veterans can be partly blamed on inadequate coordination as service members leave the military and become the responsibility of VA.

A lack of coordination also hurts treatment of combat-related wounds. Amputees are an example, Murray said.

“Where DoD has outstanding prosthetics, VA needs to do much better,” she said. “I was shocked to hear of a veteran who, after receiving advanced prosthetics from the military, went to VA to have them adjusted and maintained. When the veteran got to the prosthetic clinic, the VA employees were fascinated by the device, having never seen that model before, and were more interested in examining it than the veteran.”

The services have used narcotics heavily to treat service members, with the Army reporting 14 percent of soldiers have been prescribed an opiate, with a third of them being prescribed more than once, Murray said.

“It is imperative that these individuals receive a truly seamless handoff to VA medical care so a provider there can manage those medications after the individual has left the service,” Murray said. “If that link is not made, those new veterans become far more likely to abuse drugs, become homeless or commit suicide.”

The ranking Republican on the veterans panel also criticized cooperation and said it appears in some cases that the result has been more bureaucracy rather than better service. The prime example for Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is a new, consolidated disability evaluation system that takes, on average, 394 days to fully process a service member — and in some cases, like at Camp Lejuene, N.C., 1½ years.

Scott Gould, VA’s deputy secretary, said the new evaluation system is working to eliminate differences between the services and between DoD and VA in disability ratings and that processing time is coming down.

William Lynn, deputy defense secretary, said the goal is to have claims processed within 300 days, a goal that could be achieved in “one to two years.”

Murray noted that the suicide rate among people going through the disability system is twice as high as for the rest of the military.

“Something isn’t working,” she said as Lynn and Gould spoke of programs to prevent suicide and drug abuse.