Mine-resistant, ambush-protected military vehicles: not your ordinary community police cars, but equipment several small towns in Ohio now own, thanks to the Unites States military. Local police departments for the past 20 years have been obtaining military equipment under a Pentagon surplus give-away program called 1033. Ohio cities such as Brimfield, Canton, Brunswick and Barberton are among the 600 municipalities across the country that have acquired so-called MRAP’s , designed to detect improved explosive devises, valued at around $733,000 each, from the U.S. Department of Defense. That’s according to the Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that has compiled a data base of 1033 recipients from the DOD’s quiet release of the information last month. Ohio cities, county sheriff’s department, campus police departments and local offices of the FBI have received more than $73 million under the 1033 Program.
Jerral Hancock wakes up every night in Lancaster, Calif. around 1 a.m., dreaming he is trapped in a burning tank. He opens his eyes, but he can’t move, he can’t get out of bed and he can’t get a drink of water. Hancock, 27, joined the Army in 2004 and went to Iraq, where he drove a tank. On Memorial Day 2007 — one month after the birth of his second child — Hancock drove over an IED.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense spent at least $1.3 billion during the last four years trying unsuccessfully to develop a single electronic health-records system between the two departments — leaving veterans’ disability claims to continue piling up in paper files across the country, a News21 investigation shows. This does not include billions of other dollars wasted during the last three decades, including $2 billion spent on a failed upgrade to the DOD’s existing electronic health-records system. For a veteran in the disability claims process, these records are critical: They include DOD service and health records needed by the VA to decide veterans’ disability ratings and the compensation they will receive for their injuries. Stacks of paper files — including veterans’ evidence from DOD of their military service and injuries — sit at VA regional offices waiting to be processed instead of being readily accessible in electronic files. Although Congress repeatedly has demanded an “integrated” and “interoperable” electronic health-records system, neither the DOD nor the VA is able to completely access the other’s electronic records.
While veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs gave its workers millions of dollars in bonuses for “excellent” performances that effectively encouraged them to avoid claims that needed extra work to document veterans’ injuries, a News21 investigation has found. In 2011, a year in which the claims backlog ballooned by 155 percent, more than two-thirds of claims processors shared $5.5 million in bonuses, according to salary data from the Office of Personnel Management. [Interactive: Tracking Disability Claims]
The more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards, or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives. Those claims now make up much of VA’s widely scrutinized disability claims backlog, defined by the agency as claims pending more than 125 days. “At the beginning of the month … I’d try to work my really easy stuff so I could get my numbers up,” said Renee Cotter, a union steward for the local Reno, Nev.