Jon Stewart on the VA’s Hand-Cranked Disability Claims File System

Comedy Central

Maybe it’s time for Plan B -- a change of leadership.

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Last night, in his second “Daily Show” episode focused on the Veterans Affairs Department, comedian Jon Stewart illustrated the disability claims backlog -- which stands at 885,068 this week -- with a look at the Veterans Benefits Administration office in Winston-Salem, N.C., where mountains of paper files threaten the structural integrity of the building and the safety of employees.

As I reported last August , that office had so many backlogged claims that employees stacked 37,000 files on top of file cabinets in two-foot high mounds. Showing photos and video clips, Stewart asked, “Is that the VA, or an episode of Hoarders?”

He then zoomed in on a clip that showed an iPhone placed atop a stack of files, and asked, “Did you see how they figured out the floor was buckling? They used the iPhone level app.” Stewart pointed out that since an iPhone has 32 gigabytes of storage, the VA should not put the gadget in the file room but “put the room on the phone.”

Using news footage from a local TV station’s March 27 broadcast, Stewart said that last month the VA had finally taken steps to modernize the Winston-Salem office. He then watched incredulously as a VA employee moved file cabinets with a hand-crank as the voice-over said this would provide better organized files in a smaller space.

“Congratulations, you have brought the VA into the 21 st month of the 1970s,” Stewart said.

He then broadcast another short news clip, which briefly noted that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed computerizing VA records in 1982 when he served as deputy director of the Veterans Affairs Administration. “Somewhere in the basement of the VA, there is a guy hammering away at a TRS-80, and he is almost there,” said Stewart, as a photo of the Radio Shack 1980s computer popped up on the screen behind him.

Stewart also offered a suggestion that would help the VA simultaneously whittle down veteran unemployment and its claims backlog: hire vets to “find and process your own file.” Or, said Stewart, taking direct aim at VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, maybe the VA should “go to Plan B and change the leadership.”

Stewart has become a powerful force in the ongoing debate over both the VA disability claims backlog and the need for a joint Defense Department-VA electronic health record, the topic of his “Red Tape Diaries” episode last week . He’s definitely far more enjoyable to watch than hearings of the House or Senate VA committees.

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