I intentionally stiffed one of my creditors.

I know, that’s not a good thing, ever, but in this case I did it as an experiment.

It was the Veteran’s Administration. Wow. That sounds horrible. Not only was I an intentional deadbeat, but I was screwing the department of the federal government that arguably does the best work.

But there was a point to what I did, as I will illustrate here. There has been a lot in the news lately about how VA Healthcare has done some pretty horrible things as an institution, and while that has been borne out by the facts, it also serves millions of service disabled veterans well.

Count me in that number. I have health insurance through my employer, but it is primarily for my family. I use the VA system first because I prefer it. They have done great work for me, and the level of focus and compassionate care has been unlike anything I’ve experienced out in the for-profit world of civilian health insurance influenced care.

I love VA Healthcare; my real problem, and the real tragedy here, is the VA Benefits side. It is a massive problem going largely unnoticed due to the recent problems with healthcare. Wait times for routine benefits requests are supposed to be a horrifically bad 180 days. However, that 6 month wait time would be refreshing compared to what veterans, many of them needing these benefits to survive, are experiencing. You’ll hear about wait times of a year to a year and a half. I’ve met folks who have been waiting two years for their claim to be acted on.

Take a look at this report from my ebenefits page on VA. gov:

va claime

Let me explain what this is. I had a 0% disability rating on my foot/ankle. This means the VA recognized there was a service related problem with it, but it didn’t impact me to the point that it was worth payment. I ended up having surgery on it, as it had gotten to the point where walking was very painful. At that point, I was re-rated to a 40% total, between my hearing and my foot.
That upgrade took six months, that 180 days they are targeting, and at the end of it I was now eligible to add my dependents. This is not something that needs to be adjudicated; once you hit a certain rating you qualify. They need a form filled out, and copies of birth certificates and marriage license.

I have an excellent representative at the DAV who helped me and reviewed my forms before I submitted them. Everything was in order, and again, there is nothing to review. It’s a slam dunk.

That was more than a year ago. A year and a month exactly. 

I don’t need the money. Not desperately; sure I could use it, but don’t need it. But it made me think about my brother and sister veterans who are struggling, on the edge of homelessness or beyond, in mental or physical pain from injuries sustained in the service, and facing the same monolithic wall of unresponsive verklempt bureaucracy. They NEED this money, and while they’ll get it someday, it will be too late to save their house, car, or in some cases, life.

So I decided I would test the system. I need money from them, and we have established how long it takes them to respond to that. Six months to over a year.

What would happen if they needed money from me? But how to test that? The only thing they charge me for is an $8 co-pay on my prescriptions.

Bingo. I let them build up. I would get letters. They were polite, and the number got higher as the months ticked by and my 800 mg ibuprofen and blood pressure medicine co pays added up.

And then the letters stopped. It had worked! I was very excited to see how long it would take them to collect against my monthly payment.

As near as I can tell, it took them about a month and a half. I called into their main number (25 minutes of hold to talk to someone) to confirm it. They had deducted the co-pays and late fees from my July 1st payment.

The nice lady (an Air Force vet who was waiting 2 years already on her claim) let me know what they had done and when I yelled ‘A-HA!’ and explained what I had done. She replied that it was different; it was VA Healthcare that was collecting, and they don’t take as long. I was quiet for a second, letting the irony really ferment on that one (considering the news of the day) and pointed out that when VA Health was owed money, and asked VA Benefits for help. It took a month.

But when I asked VA Benefits for money I was owed, we are at a year and counting.

How come the people that process these claims against Veterans can’t be repurposed until claims for veterans get back down under three months? Doesn’t that seem like a reasonable response? Does the VA need my $93.46 so badly that it has a streamlined organization to get that money? Make VA Health stand in line with the rest of us.

As bad as the VA Healthcare scandal is, and it’s bad, the waitlist scandal is worse. It’s affecting many more veterans in ways that permanently damage them and their families. I’m just glad that for me, it’s an exercise to alleviate pent up frustration and not worry over paying the mortgage.

But what about my friends, brothers and sisters who served, who are facing the street? They need our help.