Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has come under a great deal of scrutiny lately. Many veterans' advocates have called for his resignation as they become increasingly frustrated over the growing backlog for disability claims. Despite the criticism, President Barack Obama recently announced that he stands behind Shinseki and his plans to streamline the claims process and improve treatment for America's servicemembers, Military.com reports.
Some of the most significant criticism came recently from a column published in Time magazine. The article's author said that care for veterans has become worse since Shinseki took over the post of VA secretary four years ago, and as tens of thousands of troops separate from service it may get worse. In fact, the claims backlog has surpassed 900,000 and grown more than 48 percent since 2008.
Despite the discouraging figures, Shinseki has steadfastly remained committed to his original plans, according to the website. Specifically, he wants to provide more VA access for vets, reduce the backlog and eliminate homelessness among veterans. Critics say he's not moving fast enough.
Progress on the horizon
While there are undoubtedly legitimate criticisms, the VA may soon be able to put a dent in the sizeable claims backlog thanks to certain provisions in Obama's 2014 budget. While many other areas of the government have seen a cut in funding, the VA will receive an increase. Specifically, the Veterans Benefits Administration will be given a 13.6 percent increase in funding to $2.5 billion, which includes hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to transitioning to a paperless claims system. The budget also includes $7 billion for veterans' mental health care.
"The president has made clear to us this is a national priority," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said during a recent press briefing, according to The Washington Post.
One of the biggest problems facing the VA is the fact that it and the Department of Defense (DOD) don't use the same electronic health records, so when a soldier moves from one department to the other, the transition can be difficult. The two departments had started to work on creating an entirely new system, but earlier this year made changes to the plans. Instead, they hope to integrate the two systems by the end of July.