Veterans Bureaucracy Fosters Dependency Schenectady Gazette September 10, 1988

It is time to overhaul the entire system for veterans services in this country. The current antiquated bureaucracy does not work to the benefit of veterans, does not serve the country well, and costs more than anyone in their right mind would spend. The main obstacle to the needed changes is the leadership of veterans organizations. Actually, it is the lack of leadership. They pretend to be leaders when they really are following the lowest common denominator. Members become Commanders by repeating the same demands and worn-out solutions from 30 years ago. They stifle creativity within their ranks and emerge as protectors of the faith. The best comparison would be to a Soviet commissar ensuring that the economy is guided by Leninist ideology as articulated 50 years ago. We know the effect that has had on the Russians. As a new generation of leaders emerges from the Vietnam generation, we can only hope they will apply some common sense, and refocus programs. Otherwise, they too will be guilty of theft of opportunity. The Veterans Administration is a $27 billion monopolistic industry dependent on a supply of disabled clientele, and survivors-in-need, a supply it controls with eligibility criteria. It eliminates competition through an incestuous relationship with veterans organizations and friendly Congressmen who might have challenged its actions.

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The Veterans Administration has provided veterans organizations with an effective monopoly over the benefits money. Under federal law, no attorney can receive more than $10 for helping a veteran pursue a claim for disability benefits. Furthermore, not even the US Supreme Court can review a benefits decision. The VA decides who may represent veterans in these claims, and has turned that monopoly over to the veterans organizations. Congressmen who might otherwise consider changing these laws see veterans organizations as a patriotic constituency who will help them get re-elected. The service organizations certify the patriotism of the incumbents against insurgents. In return, the congressmen deny new federal charters to alternative veterans organizations. This enables the traditional groups to continue their part of the monopolistic triangle. The VA and is free to do what it wants with no challenges. What the VA mostly does is maintain a hospital-based program decades after similar welfare programs have been deinstitutionalized. It pays the veteran to be disabled and encourages him to seek higher and higher percentages of disability, the ultimate being unemployability. The higher percentage of disability, the higher the monthly stipend. While the rest of our society is moving toward taking people off welfare through employment programs, the VA maintains the status quo. This creates an increasing dependency on the VA, further depressing once healthy and active warriors. It promotes a downward spiral of self-medication through alcohol and drugs, a loss of self-worth and an obsession with memories of glory days. When they get paid for behaving like victims, we should not be surprised that so many veterans find themselves this way. In order to change the system, we will need intelligent articulate leaders who are more interested in serving veterans and than becoming commanders. They will need to go beyond the organizations to organizing. The Reagan Administration speaks of privatizing public services. We need entrepreneurs who will sort out what can be done better and cheaper through contracting out. It is time to turn the VA hospitals over to the community, as the U.S. Public Health Service has. We need to integrate veterans programs with other social service programs. In doing so, VA administrators may learn new methods from other service providers. As it
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is now, the VA hospitals are a major training ground for medical schools. We veterans deserve better. The best veteran leaders of tomorrow will be active in their community today. They will help veterans see that community needs are as important as veteran needs; that we all move forward together. They will change the call from give me to let s share. They will be willing to take risks to challenge their own beliefs, to be less defensive about what is owed them. They will give up the concept of earned benefits, as if veterans are better than the poor, homeless, single parents or the mentally disabled. When we veterans begin to use our caste privilege to serve others, then others will be more willing to help us. Then we will be living what we joined the military to defend. Then maybe the 88 percent of veterans who do not join the service organizations will come forth. There will be something worth participating in. Until then, veteran leaders can take their 12% membership over the cliff by themselves. The rest of us want to make this country a better place to live for all of us. Edward Murphy, a Vietnam veteran and political activists is regular contributor to the Saturday op-ed page.

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