Imagine returning home after serving your country in a combat zone. You have suffered debilitating injuries — some physical, others mental — and you're trying to adjust to life outside the uniform.
Finding a job has been tough — after all, loud noises make you duck for cover, and you can't stand on your feet for long because of injuries from too many parachute jumps.
You go to your local VA clinic — some of them hundreds of miles away, depending on where you live. They diagnose you, get you some meds and send you on your way.
But then the bills start piling up. You still can't find a job given your various ailments.
So, you apply for disability benefits through the Veterans Administration.
And wait. A week goes by, then a month, then six months.
You call. Several times. Each time you get someone different who tells you to send in a different form, to a different place. They tell you they didn't receive the last forms you sent or they can't find your medical records. They ask you to send them in again, to a different place.
You call back. You're more desperate now. "Oh," the VA employee says, "we got one of the forms, but now we need you to send in a different form."
It's frustrating and has been a years-long process for some vets. Many give up.
VA officials have acknowledged that "the ball was dropped," and have vowed, for years now, to reduce the wait time and make it easier for vets to apply for the benefits that are rightly theirs to claim.
The VA now has a new computer system that may help eliminate delays and reduce some of the "disappearing document" problems that stall valid disability applications.
By 2015, VA officials are promising to process all claims within 125 days.
That's not soon enough, but the VA is at least marching in the right direction.
Our legislators need to continue putting pressure on the VA to get this mission completed. Because no man or woman who has served our country should ever be left behind.
Copyright Grand Haven (Mich.) Tribune. Distributed by the Associated Press.