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Old 01-13-2021, 02:19 PM
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Arrow To VA Secretary Nominee Denis McDonough: Here's How We Fix the Broken VA

To VA Secretary Nominee Denis McDonough: Here's How We Fix the Broken VA
By: Brian Reese - Military.Com News - 01-13-21

Brian Reese is a leading expert on and advocate for U.S. veterans' benefits. A former active-duty Air Force officer, he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy and earned his MBA as a National Honor Scholar from the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University.

As a disabled veteran, I support President-elect Joe Biden's announced intention to nominate Denis McDonough as the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but only if he promises to bring about radical change and innovation at the department.

Truthfully, I am sick and tired (literally and figuratively) of the impersonal nature and impossible hoops we must jump through to obtain the VA care and benefits we have earned for our service, and I am sure that millions of other veterans feel this way, too.

There are three things the next Administrative Service Secretary should consider and/or must do.

First, be wary of the deeply entrenched and bureaucratic "advice" you will hear from your leaders. In my humble opinion, the main problem plaguing the VA is that its leaders have failed to imagine new solutions to old problems, primarily because they lack the ability to ask the right questions. Heck, they might not even realize there are problems. Albert Einstein once remarked, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

It is time for leaders to think differently about the VA. You must challenge all assumptions, ask better questions of those around you and listen carefully to what veterans tell you. Just because everyone agrees with you does not mean you are right, and just because everyone disagrees with you does not mean you are wrong. Follow your heart, your gut and your intuition, and always do what is best for veterans.

Second, it is time for fewer pills and more community. The VA's answer to the veteran mental health crisis and suicide epidemic is more pills. Wrong. The answer is more community. It is time for the VA to unite with local communities, including creating and leading in-person and virtual events for veterans worldwide. Depression, anxiety and mental health issues are often underlying symptoms of loneliness and isolation, not necessarily the cause. Veterans like me crave a sense of identity, belonging and purpose that we have long lost since leaving the military. We want to feel important.

Stop calling us by our last name and last four of our Social Security numbers; we are not numbers in your system -- we are people, with first names and close ties to our branch of service, who courageously volunteered and raised our right hands to defend freedom. Instead, try starting every interaction by asking us for our branch of service. Thank us, smile and welcome us home at the VA. Let us know we matter and that you care.

Third, it is time for the VA to create a free basic education and training course for all things VA benefits. It must be simple and easy to understand for all veterans. While I am not the brightest bulb on the porch, I am not stupid, either. But it still took me seven years of seemingly endless battles and multiple rounds of denials after leaving the military to finally get the VA benefits I deserved for my honorable service. And I consider myself lucky.

Many millions of veterans have it far worse: 75% of veterans alive today do not have any VA benefits at all. In fact, according to the most recent Veteran Benefits Administration annual report to Congress, just one in four veterans alive today receive anything from the VA. This is shameful and must change now.

In my experience, this is due primarily to the lack of basic education and training on the subject. It should not take an advanced degree and thousands of hours of time in the trenches to obtain VA benefits.

The time for radical change and innovation at the VA is right now, and it starts with the new secretary.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to for consideration.


Personal note: It's not all bad - yet it could include more benefits like dental most of old farts can't afford dental insurance - so we go without teeth and don't eat the foods that we can't chew. I did 12 yrs but not 20 so I'm a write off. Seems unfair in many ways. But Uncle Sam knows what best for us - sure OK - if you say so. But you could do a lot more if your heart was in it. Some of us are still waiting for payments on contaminates that you guys keep ducting. Asbestos and oil and jet fuel contaminations - oh yea lets not forget the red lead that every swab knows about. Berthing compartments had ceiling with asbestos on them and wake up every morning with white asbestos dust on our faces and bunks. Fuel spills - shoes saturated with fuels of all sorts. But unless you do 20+ your a right off and not covered. Common guys let's get with the program. No you'll wait until we die from something you could've fixed - or treated us - or the badly needed dental work - that us old timers really need - but you have to do 20+ years to get that coverage. Well anyway - I've said my piece!
And lastly when do we get our Corona Virus shots - nobody knows - but again we are the last ones - to get them - I keep forgetting!


O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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