Healthcare.gov, anyone? VA’s new military burn pit site is struggling

July 2

Then-Marine Sgt. Robert B. Brown watches over civilian firefighters at the burn pit at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, in May 2007 as smoke and flames rise into the night sky behind him. The Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a new website for veterans who may have been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals through the burn pits, but it has experienced technical difficulties this week. (Photo by Marine Cpl. Samuel D. Corum)

What is it with new government websites, anyway?

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new web site to allow veterans to register their names if they think they have been exposed to fumes from trash and human waste burned in open-air pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The practice has been common for years in war zones, and generated enough attention that the VA decided to build a registry of those whose health may have been affected.

But as USA Today’s Kelly Kennedy reported Tuesday night, the new site has frustrated veterans using it due to a series of crashes and other technical problems. The problems became evident after the Wounded Warrior Project, a military charity, posted a link to a story noting the site’s arrival. It yielded a variety of complaints about VA treatment, along with some specific, pointed criticism about the website:

“What a crock,” one veteran wrote. “I can’t get past the deployment page because they have it all messed up and won’t let me change it. Typical VA.”

“Tried three times now,” wrote another. “The website is nonhelpful.”

VA officials told USA Today that the site is currently online and operational, but may require system maintenance that causes lags for users. Hundreds of veterans also were wrongly told they were ineligible to register by the site.

The burn-pit site problems come on the heels of embarrassing problems with the Obama administration’s Healthcare.gov website, which was launched along with the Affordable Care Act.  The administration and the companies that built the website came under fire last year, including during congressional hearings. Healthcare.gov’s problems served as frequent cannon fodder on late-night television throughout the fall. Things don’t appear that serious with the burn-pit site now, but it’s still ripe for satirizing if the VA doesn’t move quickly.

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