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VA Secretary visits midstate, promotes efforts to modernize system

Written by Marie Cusick | Sep 25, 2017 5:56 AM
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Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (center) discusses ways to improve veteran care in Mechanicsburg Friday.

(Mechanicsburg)-- Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin participated in a panel discussion in Mechanicsburg Friday, stressing the agency's commitment to improve care for veterans.

The VA has been mired in controversy since reports emerged in 2014 of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of coverups at the Phoenix VA center.

Speaking at the Veteran of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 6704 in Hampden Township, Shulkin zeroed in on five priorities: to give veterans more choice, modernize VA facilities, to improve wait times for services, focus most on the services important to veterans, and prevent suicide.

"I feel strongly the country has a responsibility toward veterans," he says. "We just have to fix this system."

Shulkin was questioned about the rollout of a new program earlier this month, called Decision Ready Claims. It's designed to streamline disability claims with a 30-day response time.

 "If it's done well, I am shooting for the way you can go now on the internet now, and apply for a credit card or a loan, and you get an instant decision," says Shulkin. "I'd like to do that for veterans."

The program relies on Veterans Service Organizations, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans to make sure veterans have all the documents they need before submitting a claim.

Kit Watson is Adjutant for the Pennsylvania American Legion and a Vietnam War veteran. He believes strongly in the VA, and feels it does great work for veterans, but he says the Decision Ready Claims program is not functioning as intended.

"Say you jumped out of airplanes-- you've got a bad knee that isn't getting any better. That requires one of [the VA's] physicians to look at it. Until that appointment happens, you're waiting," says Watson. "Those Decision Ready Claims aren't going to happen just because we filled the paperwork out. It's just going to make those waiting times look like they're less."

The system is also becoming more stressed, Watson says, as veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan use it at higher rates than previous generations.

"They're bringing guys back that would have never made it off the battlefield 20, 30 years ago," he says.

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