OTTUMWA — While frustrations ran high during a Monday meeting about area veterans’ needs, those in attendance agreed their goals aren’t really different.
Rep. Dave Loebsack met with local officials, including the veterans’ affairs directors for Wapello and Davis counties, and said the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has strong leaders from both parties. The problem, as he sees it, is the bureaucracy.
Dave Reeves, who is in charge of Davis County’s office, said the changes must be more than a matter of shuffling who is in charge. Bob McDonald will likely be the next VA secretary, following the resignation of Eric Shineski. Shineski’s resignation followed revelations of massive delays in getting veterans care nationally.
“Getting rid of [Shineski] is not going to get rid of this problem,” Reeves said.
Reeves and Marty Cremer, his counterpart in Wapello County, said the problems have long been clear to them. Delays dropped from 18 months to nine months at one point, only to rise again.
They also complained of a sluggish department that processes claims speedily only when it is collecting money it believes it is owed. Efforts to streamline the processes using technology have put real assistance out of the reach of many veterans. Many either lack the computer skills needed to navigate the system or run into problems with the automated phone line accessible to the public.
“You can’t streamline everything,” Reeves said. “Have you ever called the 800 number? You’ll never get to a real person.”
Loebsack said both Republican and Democratic leaders in the VA committee genuinely want to resolve the problems, “but they can only do so much.”
Getting a new VA secretary is a step in the right direction, but Loebsack doesn’t anticipate instant changes.
“We’ll see,” he said. “The bottom line is [McDonald] has got a heck of a lot of work to do. There are a lot of issues he has to address.”