Paul R. Pace, News staff
Diverse disciplines convened at NASW’s national office in June to discuss the possibility of drafting a covenant for the nation’s veterans.
The symposium, “Enhancing the well-being of America’s veterans and their families: A call to action for a national veterans policy,” provided a platform to exchange expert feedback on the challenges and potential solutions to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
The University of Southern California School of Social Work and the NASW Social Work Policy Institute hosted the event, which brought together those representing veterans, health, mental health, family services, universities, policymakers, educators and advocates.
Anthony Hassan, director of the University of Southern California Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, said he plans to take what was suggested at the gathering and form it into a potential covenant for veterans.
“The British and Canadians have a covenant — why not us?” Hassan said. Such a document could be a catalyst to gain community, philanthropic and public support to better serve veterans and their families, he said.
“This would be a template for (veterans’ advocates) to stand behind to leverage change,” Hassan said.
At the event, experts from government, national organizations, service providers and research offered insight into the complex world of veterans affairs.
Phillip Carter, director of Military, Veterans and Society Program for the Center for a New American Security, told participants that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is the second largest cabinet agency. It provided care to 6.3 million veterans in 2012.
The biggest issue challenging the VA today is addressing the backlog of service claims, he said.
Part of the challenge is volume. Carter said only one in five veterans from World War II filed a claim with the VA. In contrast to today, 50 percent to 60 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans file a claim.
The Veterans Benefit Administration, a subagency of the VA, is facing a large claims backlog with 865,256 claims pending, of which 575,825 are over 125 days old. They are mostly claims for disability compensation, Carter said.
“We are an all-volunteer force and these are our earned benefits,” he said. “Over the next 30 to 50 years and beyond, the VA budget is going up while the number of veterans goes down.”
Carter said the VA is doing a good job, but “clearly we could do better … claims are getting better — thanks to technology. (Claims) should go down over the next six months.”
“Access to care and benefits remains a challenge,” Carter said. “Broadly, the VA only has capacity to serve those serving.”
That may change moving forward, however. He noted the enactment of the Affordable Care Act will likely affect the VA and Defense Department in their provision of primary care. It’s unclear at the moment how that may happen, he said.
He asked attendees to share their strategies in helping veterans.
“The VA cannot be the agent of change in the scope of its authority,” Carter said.
The majority of veterans returning home from recent war activities will need help with some level of post-traumatic stress, he said, and local agencies are the ideal places of care.
From the September 2013 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.