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Labyrinth of Bureaucracy No Way to Honor Veterans

By: Nick Zaiac - @NickZaiac - Nov 11, 2014, 7:37 am
The GAO's report on veteran support programs reveals a confusing bureaucratic mess full of redundancies
The GAO’s report on veteran support programs reveals a confusing bureaucratic mess full of redundancies. (Flickr)

EspañolOn November 7, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report detailing the many programs available for military veterans. The results were eye-opening. No fewer than 87 separate programs administered by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) are available to those who have previously served in the military, and still more are part of other departments.

Moreover, the report notes that some programs serve multiple functions, so the effective number is likely even higher.

While the GAO’s study fails to make any kind of strong policy proposal, it does shed light on the duplication of programs within the departments. They find no fewer than 12 programs that “raise awareness and understanding of service members’ and veterans’ experiences in combat and coming home.”

Now, let me be clear that when a government promises benefits to those leaving the military, they should attempt to fulfill these promises as thoroughly as possible. However, the specific way in which these benefits are administered should be up for debate, and the government has a duty to safeguard taxpayers from superfluous spending on veterans programs.

The US Government Accountability Office analyzed the total number of benefit programs available to military veterans.
The US Government Accountability Office analyzed the total number of benefit programs available to military veterans. (GAO)

Eighty seven separate programs is far too many, not only because benefits can be hard to measure, but because they can be confusing to the veterans who seek to use them. Each of the functions in the above graphic could and should be consolidated into a short list of programs that any veteran can understand. Moreover, only programs that prove to provide real value for recipients should be allowed to continue, and those without a clear purpose should be terminated.

We can safely say the public at large is well aware of the sacrifices our veterans make, and the challenging aspects of military combat are clearly embedded in the public consciousness. However, some of the programs appear to exist solely to force awareness of military issues on people who should already possess this knowledge as part of their basic job description.

For example, millions of dollars need not be spent on projects like the Marine Corp’s “Are You Listening?” program. The stated purpose of this program is to train military base employees, such as fitness center staff, how to communicate with military staff, when such awareness should clearly be vetted as part of the hiring process as a condition of working on a military base.

There are a number of reasons why so many programs are currently in place. The military will naturally push for more new programs, even if the ones available work, and even more so if the current suite of programs does not fulfill its perceived needs. Thought is not put into whether a specific program passes any kind of cost-benefit analysis. Politicians relish the opportunity for the sort of publicity that creating a new veterans program generates. The bureaucracy has little desire to terminate marginal programs aimed at people the public views as “heroes.”

However, there is a better way. Military and veterans programs should be consolidated into single-issue programs administered through a single entity within both the DoD and VA. Each program should be forced to show real benefits to the targeted individuals, and those with ambiguous, unmeasurable goals should be terminated.

Programs that survive should be broad, available to most, if not all, members of the group, and provide clear and defined benefits at comparatively modest costs. Moreover, consolidation and the creation of a “one-stop-shop” would bring clarity to soldiers, veterans, and their families as to the options available to them. If we choose to offer a benefit to those in uniform, they should be made aware of these benefits from the outset.

Transparency, universality, and low cost are three tenants of what makes a good public program. The current DoD and VA benefits programs possess none of these traits. The answer to these problems does not come from layers of accountability and bureaucracy, but from simplification and consolidation types of benefits offered.

Our military veterans deserve better than to be forced to navigate a labyrinthine bureaucracy to get the benefits they were promised. Spending money in their name, when the primary beneficiaries are the administering bureaucrats, is not good for our troops, or the public at large.

Nick Zaiac Nick Zaiac

Nick Zaiac is a public-policy researcher in Washington, DC. He also serves as a policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. His column, The DC Leviathan focuses on the often-ignored bureaucratic agencies, from the Department of the Interior to the General Services Administration. He has been published in the Baltimore Sun, City AM, CapX, and other outlets. Follow @NickZaiac.