by Alan Beatts
It's been a while since I wrote something for this newsletter (just been too damn busy of late -- mostly in a good way) and I hope that the following won't be a disappointment to you. Because it's got nothing to do with our field, or books at all. In fact, it treads very close to my self-imposed restriction about not talking about politics.
But, all that aside, I've got some information that it is important to me to get spread around and, for reasons that you'll hear about in a moment, it's been surprisingly hard to get people to listen. Curious? Then please read on.
I've never served in the armed forces, either in the US or elsewhere, but I've worked with and for a lot of veterans. On top of that, I've numbered many of them among my friends. Something that has been a huge source of frustration and disgust for me over the years is how damn hard it can be for veterans to get access to the benefits that they deserve, especially health care. When I was in my teens and 20s I used to go with my friend Maureen to wait at the VA in Palo Alto for her doctors appointments. She had been discharged from the Marine Corps (she was one of the very first women to work in Marine Intelligence, which we always joked was one of the biggest oxymorons in history) after a catastrophic car accident while on-duty. The resulting injuries left her with chronic pain and memory problems for the rest of her life. One of the reasons that I'd go with her was that when the pain was especially bad she couldn't drive. We used to wait for hours and hours at a stretch to see a doctor. On top of that there were constant problems with her eligibility for health care. To be fair, the doctors and other staff did their best but the whole system was inefficient and over-loaded. It is, to this day, one of the worst health-care systems I've seen in the US.
I've heard about that sort of experience from many other vets that I've known. But, if the process of getting care was difficult, then the process of signing up in the first place was unbelievable. As of a few years ago, that signup process involved a very long paper form that had to be filled out completely and accurately. Then that form was sent off to a single office, in Atlanta, where an understaffed office manually reviewed the forms, manually checked them against an ancient database and then, if everything was correct and worked properly, then manually entered information into yet another, ancient database.
In short, it was exactly the sort of Kafka-esque process that arises when the paper-pushing side of the US Military and the paper-pushing side of the Federal government spend one drunken night together and then have a really ugly baby. Delays of over a year were not uncommon and, if the forms weren't filled out properly, it could be over a year before the applicant ever heard about it.
However, that whole process has changed recently due to a project that my friend John worked on. John is one of our sponsors and he's working with the United States Digital Service <https://www.usds.gov>. Until John mentioned it, I'd never heard of the USDS but it's pretty neat. Basically it is an organization put together by the current administration designed to attract top level technical experts from the private sector, pair them with government administrators and then ask them to sort out some of the technical and IT problems that interfere with the government providing services to the public. They've done some great work since 2014 when they started and it makes me feel pretty proud that at least four of our sponsors are working with them right now.
John is part of the group of programmers and project managers who were tasked with fixing the slow and outdated processes at the Vetrans Administration. As a result of their work, it's now possible to sign up for Vetrans health benefits on-line and the process is fast. Really fast. So much so that now, instead of wait times of more than a year, the web site now reads, "How long will it take to process your application? Less than one week. If more than a week has passed since you submitted your application and you haven’t heard back, please don’t apply again. Call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), then press 2."
Neat huh? But why the hell am I telling you about it?
John and I were talking some weeks ago about the whole project and he said that one of the big problems they've had is that not enough people are using it. It seems that many veterans just didn't believe that things could possibly change. Even a vet who worked with John didn't really believe it until John showed him. The phrase, "Same shit, different day" is part of the essential fabric of the military and almost no place more so than in the minds of veterans dealing with the VA. So, the problem is that people out there who should be signing up just don't believe that there is any point; plus, the credibility of the VA is about as low as it can get.
And that's the reason that I'm telling you about it. I would like you to spread the word to anyone you know who's a veteran, anyone you know who's married to a vet, has a family member who's a vet, and so on. John is working on getting a better outreach program going on the VA side but I said I'd do what I could myself and that I'd ask you to do the same.
Because this stuff is really important. Regardless of what you think of the orders given to our military by our government (and by our past governments) or what you think about war and warfare, the veterans who have served our country and our government deserve to be treated with care and respect. They were willing to serve the government that we elected by placing their lives and health at risk doing an ugly, dangerous job. Further, I believe our obligation of care and respect goes double for the women and men who were injured or crippled doing that job.
So, please get the word out however you can. Online signup is here - https://www.vets.gov/healthcare/apply/. People can also sign up by phone at 1-877-222-8387 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (EST). And, of course, there is still a paper form but, really, why go through all that?