Honor the dead - and the living - vets on Memorial Day
Memorial Day honors the service of military personnel who have died, but the holiday also is a good time to reflect and act upon the debt that the nation owes to living veterans.
According to the Department of Defense, about 2.5 million members of active, Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the terrorist attacks of September 2001. More than 400,000 of those troops have been deployed at least three times and 37,000 have been deployed five times.
About 1.7 million of those troops have transitioned to veteran status, more than 1 million from the active ranks and the rest from Reserve and Guard units.
Despite a 40 percent increase in the Veterans Administration budgets and staffing, a substantial backlog has developed of veterans waiting for determinations on their applications for benefits, especially disability. According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 580,000 veterans have been waiting longer than 125 days for determinations on their disability applications, some for as long as 600 days. About 10,000 of those veterans live in Pennsylvania. The VA said the average wait for a determination in Philadelphia is 510 days and in Pittsburgh, 625 days.
Meanwhile, the stress on the VA has contributed to the departure of many top-level executives who are responsible for improving the response, as the agency installs a new computer system and other measures meant to ease the backlog.
Many heartfelt speeches will be made today honoring the sacrifices of veterans who have died. A great way to honor their memory would be to attend to the needs of those still living. Congress should authorize the administration to expedite the needed improvements, including through the use of private managers, if necessary.