“The Nation which Forgets its Defenders will Itself be Forgotten”

-Emperor Maurice and the Persians

Addressing Longstanding Leadership and Management Challenges

Many dedicated and talented people work in the Veterans Administration (VA). Unfortunately, they work inside a system where the bureaucracy is a tsunami of inefficient and ineffective disability programs. All veterans and their families that I talk with across the country appreciate the efforts of veteran organizations and elected officials in developing, supporting, and approving legislation that provides programs to help the disability of veterans.

What frustrates veterans is that these programs are administered inside the system, which could be more efficient and effective. The VA is rated seven out of ten of the ten federal departments, just ahead of the Justice Department and ICE. Let’s consider the PACT Act, which is needed legislation for veterans. Unfortunately, with the current issues in the VA, the implementation of the PACT Act will be hampered and plagued with the usual problems that have transcended every administration since the establishment of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The PACT ACT is currently at a backlog of 266K and will grow to an estimated 450K and 730K.

Every President, Cabinet member, and elected Congressional member shouts from the rooftops that veteran care is a bi-partisan issue. This is not true because the Democrats and Republicans have different ideas and approaches steeped in political bias that are partisan. So, the biggest problem is ineffective leadership and partial political solutions that result in partisan political compromise. This prevents much-needed transformational change and results in the practice of short-term transactional band-aid legislation.

How are members of Congress supposed to know what veterans need when our Congress consists of about 17% veterans? Currently, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs is not a veteran; less than 1% of Americans serve in our Armed Forces, and ~99% do not. The Department of Defense needs to be more effective in treating its service members while on active duty and successfully transitioning them to civilian life. This must change.

In addition, the Department of Labor (DOL) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have programs for veterans. Spreading veteran services across four different departments is not effective and efficient in delivering veteran services. The bureaucracy of one federal department is complicated enough, never mind trying to coordinate, collaborate, and develop effective programs across four different government departments for veterans.

Ensuring that veterans get the disability care they need: The recognition that the VA is a disability care system, not a health care system, is required. It is a reactive system and a poorly managed proactive system. There is no reason why the VA, with the support of the DOD, cannot anticipate the disability care needed for a service member transitioning to be a veteran. Understanding the future of veteran demographics is a large part of getting the transformation right. About nine-in-ten veterans (89%) are men, while about one-in-ten (11%) are women, according to the VA’s 2021 population model estimates. By 2046, the share of female veterans is expected to increase to about 18%. The number of female veterans is also projected to increase slightly, from around 2 million in 2021 to approximately 2.2 million in 2046. The number of male veterans, on the other hand, is projected to drop from about 17 million in 2021 to around 10.3 million in 2046.