Don't use form letter for sensitive notification

At least the Department of Veterans Affairs has found the personnel to telephone and personally apologize to vets wrongly told they suffer from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Too bad they couldn't have found enough to make the calls in the first place, instead of sending erroneous form letters to between 600 and 1,200 veterans.

It's clear that sending the letters to the wrong people was only one of the agency's mistakes.

A form letter is a dreadful way to be told you have a fatal disease, and VA officials should have known that before this recent mess.

Lou Gehrig's disease -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS -- is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

It is fatal within three to five years of its onset in 80 percent of cases.

The letters were not meant to be notifications.

Instead, the VA meant to advise some 1,500 or so veterans who do have the disease that the payments to which they are entitled have been approved.

The VA blames the misinforming letters on a coding error.

Finding people enough to call all the victims of this bureaucratic blunder after the fact indicates the VA can find the needed resources when it gives a task a high enough priority.

We suggest that advising veterans they have ALS or other fatal diseases, even if it just eligibility for benefits, rises to the level of very, very high priority.