About 50 veterans heard Rep. Bill Johnson pledge Monday to continue to do all he can to ease the transition from active service to veterans benefits as he held a forum at Eastern Gateway Community College.
Johnson, R-Ohio, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. He said he wasn't aware until he retired in 1999 how tough the government process makes the transition from active duty to veterans benefits. He said there are 62 data centers in the Veterans Administration, involving hundreds of thousands of employees in a system that should be made more efficient.
"With the Veterans Administration, many things are going right, but there are some things that aren't ..." he said. "... When it comes to claims processing, medical records, obtaining benefits, the transition from the Department of Defense to the VA, those are some things that are not going well. I expect results."
Johnson heads a House subcommittee that investigates fraud, abuse and inefficiencies in the VA system. He also said there are efforts to streamline the processing of claims and appeals, as well as to allow email and electronic notification for veterans benefits processing.
Johnson and Tom Moe, a retired Air Force colonel who heads the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, said the need to advocate for services for veterans grows greater as the ranks of veterans shrink and more wounded veterans are surviving severe injuries on the modern battlefield.
Moe said Ohio has 900,000 veterans, compared with 1.2 million just a few years ago, and only 20 percent of them have contact with veterans services. He said sometimes it's because the veteran doesn't want the help and sometimes it's because the veteran isn't aware of eligibility for benefits.
"Let us tell you, let the VA tell you," he said.
He said while World War II created 16 million veterans, the ranks of modern veterans are dwindling. He said the nation has created 2 million veterans in 10 years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There are fewer of us, and we are less visible," he said. Yet, at the same time, unemployment is higher for veterans, and there are issues of substance abuse, violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, life with injuries and lost limbs and mental conditions and homelessness. Moe said the needs of veterans also grow because of the dependence on return tours for National Guard and Reserve units.
Veterans in the audience aired complaints about the bureaucracy and the way they're treated when they try to resolve issues at the Cleveland benefits center.
Johnson also heard complaints about the VA limiting benefits based on the income of the veteran, including their pensions and Social Security.
Johnson said it's an uphill battle in Congress, too, where it's no longer a majority who have served in the armed services or fought in a war.