These Wounded Soldiers Need Lean To Get Their Benefits?

Veterans Day 2010Soldiers risk ruin while awaiting benefit checks

I’ve read about this problem before… and at the risk of this turning too political, I’m going to address the issue. Wounded U.S. soldiers are reportedly waiting too long to get the benefits to which they’re entitled. In the case of one soldier:

Stevens’ descent from Army private first-class, 3rd Infantry Division, 11 Bravo Company, began in 2005 — not in battle, since he was never sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan, but with a headfirst fall over a wall on the obstacle course at Fort Benning, Ga. He suffered a head injury and spinal damage.

The injury alone didn’t put him in a homeless shelter. Instead, it was military bureaucracy — specifically, the way injured soldiers are discharged on just a fraction of their salary and then forced to wait six to nine months, and sometimes even more than a year, before their full disability payments begin to flow.

That’s shameful, injured vets living in homeless shelters.

Nearly 20,000 disabled soldiers were discharged in the past two fiscal years, and lawmakers, veterans’ advocates and others say thousands could be facing financial ruin while they wait for their claims to be processed and their benefits to come through.

It sounds like they need a serious dose of Lean thinking. If they’re “waiting” for claims to be processed, I can only guess that the “process” is plagued by:

  • Departmental silos
  • Long delays between steps in the process
  • Long delays before decisions or approvals are done as a batch
  • Poor processes that lead to missing information or missing paperwork

I’m speculating and, call me a cynic, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of that is the case. I wonder how long it really takes to perform what you might call the “Value Added” steps in this process, which might include:

  • Receive paperwork
  • Verify status
  • Finalize paperwork
  • Start sending checks

If it takes SIX MONTHS to get this done, I bet most of that time is waiting and delay. The U.S. government needs to do better than that. Use Lean thinking, create value streams that are focused on flow (and quality) of focusing on departments, efficiency, and internal politics or battles. Focus on the “customer” of the process – the wounded soldiers. Come on, get it done. I read about this months ago…. let’s get this process fixed. For shame…

The point, with this or any Lean improvements, wouldn’t be “doing things faster” or cutting corners. One should be able to take significant time out of the process without being sloppy and giving benefits, for example, to just anyone who applied. Reducing delays before verification steps, rather than eliminating such safeguards, would be the “Lean” approach.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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4 Comments on "These Wounded Soldiers Need Lean To Get Their Benefits?"

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  1. Lisa says:

    The truly sad part of this is that the Government, including the Department of The Army, supposedly has Lean initiatives in progress. I have at least one cousin and an Aunt working for DFAS and all they can see or say about the Lean initiatives is that they are cutting jobs and asking people to do more with less rather than enabling them to work smarter. My cousin was explaining it and it nearly made my head explode.

  2. Andy Wagner says:

    Mark,
    There was an article in Naval Institute Proceedings a few months ago about this issue. (Subscription Only: http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/archive/story.asp?STORY_ID=1353)
    Both the DoD and Veterans Affairs have done a lot of good work streamlining and simplifying their processes, HOWEVER, they have done a *miserable* job coordinating between the two agencies.
    A wounded soldier who remains in the military generally gets great care from DoD. A retired soldier gets great care from VA. A soldier, forced by a battlefield injury to retire gets screwed by the transition from a DoD care to VA care.
    One example of this is the process for rating a soldier’s disability. DoD and VA have separate review boards and methodologies for determining disability. Retirees have to go through the process TWICE. And, they usually get different answers from the two processes.
    The other specific examples from the Proceedings article are equally infuriating, particularly to a lean thinker who understands where to find the solutions.

    -Andy

  3. David says:

    It would be interesting to compare the process and the delays with those in the WWII period and immediately following…when, of course, there were *many* more injured soliders, and the only computational assistance available was from punched card equipment.

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