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VA needs reform

Thank you for a fantastic article about the problems veterans face obtaining disability compensation payments for their military-related medical problems from the Department of Veterans Affairs ("Insult to injury," by Lisa Sorg, March 14).

Here's more bad news. The problem is very serious for older veterans, and it is getting even worse for new veterans. More than 180,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans already filed disability claims against the VA, further increasing the backlog of delays and bureaucratic red tape. As the wars continue to escalate, based on current trends, new war veterans will file hundreds of thousands of more claims against the VA.

There are three solutions to the VA's claims crisis. First, veterans should be able to hire attorneys, and Congress moved in that direction last year, as you reported. Today, when a veteran gets a reject letter from the VA, the veteran should send in a "notice of disagreement" right away and hire a lawyer to avoid the two years it takes for VA to process appeals. Veterans should be able to hire an attorney for their initial claim so they are on equal footing with the hundreds of lawyers working for the VA.

Second, the VA should immediately hire and train more claims processors so veterans and their families can put food on the table. Veterans shouldn't be forced to suffer from bad credit, evictions, foreclosures and worse because the VA didn't hire more staff to deal with the surge in new claims from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

And, third, the VA needs a massive overhaul. To do that, the agency needs to think outside the box. Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes testified before Congress last week that the VA should grant all new claims because it approves nearly 90 percent anyway. Then the VA can audit the completed claims for fraud and problems. There are two bills, S117 and S713, that provide practical solutions now. Call Congress and demand these bills be debated and enacted.

If the VA doesn't act now, not only will the crisis worsen, our war veterans will needlessly suffer, and that's not right. When our veterans need medical care and benefits, they should get them right away.

Paul Sullivan
Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense
Washington, D.C.

Stand up for veterans

As a widow of a veteran, I would like to thank you for your story on David Best ("Insult to injury," March 14).

My heart goes out to this man, as I can fully understand how he is feeling. I also agree that the VA does wait for veterans and families to die, before making a decision on a claim.

My husband died as a result of inappropriate care with lack of follow-up from a VA hospital in Ohio. For two years, he endured painful tests and procedures. All for nothing, as the VA never diagnosed him, later claiming his symptoms were all psychosomatic. He died four days after learning from an outside hospital that he had cancer. Since 2000, I have fought the VA. It has been, and continues to be, a long hard struggle.

Best is not wrong when he says the VA is waiting for all to die. My husband told the VA "I am cheaper to you dead than I am alive." He died believing this.

These stories need to continue going on in our media, for people like Best to get what is owed to him, to get the proper treatment he deserves as a veteran. Although the VA chooses to ignore all the stories, at least they are in the public eye.

I try to use my late husband's experience as a learning experience, in hopes that it will help others.

I wish him Best the best; I pray he gets what the VA owes him in time for him to feel that his pain, suffering and service is not for nothing.

God bless you for telling this story, and God bless Best and all veterans.

Denise Soles
Liverpool, England

Britain led slavery fight

The author of a review of The Last King of Scotland tied the atrocities of Idi Amin to the "colonial strictures of the British Empire" and their "oh-so-civilized brutalities" ("Kings and queens," by Godfrey Cheshire, Jan. 24). We have here a politically correct cheap shot, part of the Nasty Western Civilization Movement.

These barbs come on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, followed in 1833 by abolition of slavery. The change in the world's conscience about slavery, a momentous upheaval, came from England. As writers of an article in The Economist (Feb. 24), probably our most balanced news magazine, put it: "It was essentially the alliance of [Thomas] Clarkson, an Anglican and the Quakers, with their existing network of preachers and supporters, that made up the abolitionist movement." They built the first major campaign of humanitarian propaganda and political action. William Wilberforce was their man in Parliament. It was not easy. The sugar colonies in the West Indies were big moneymakers.

Their campaign spread outward. Diplomats pressed the other European states to do likewise, annoying them and costing them income. British men-of-war patrolled the seas looking for slave ships. Once caught, London had agents in port, as in Cuba, to see that the slavers did not slip away. There was a treaty with Spain for joint adjudication. The British Anti-Slavery Society was still active in the 20th century, going after Ethiopia and others.

When the European colonial powers divided up Africa in the later 19th century, for both good and ill, it was they who squashed slavery, long endemic there.

How soon we forget, or were we ever taught?

William R. Erwin

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