Two-thirds of all pending disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been waiting longer than 125 days. Members of Congress, veterans' groups and even Comedy Central's The Daily Show have focused attention on the issue, and some are calling for President Barack Obama to replace Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs.
(The Public Insight Network would like to hear about your experiences with VA disability claims.)
Shinseki has announced a plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. In an effort to speed up processing, the Veterans Benefits Administration has decided to begin issuing provisional decisions on veterans' claims. But some critics suggest the VA will not be able to move fast enough to eliminate the backlog, which now numbers more than half a million claims.
A statement from the VA says that "Secretary Shinseki believes it is unacceptable that veterans are waiting too long to get the benefits they have earned. That is why VA is implementing an aggressive plan that will solve this decades old problem for good and transform how VA processes claims for decades to come."
We examine the cause of the backlog and the efforts to alleviate it.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DELAYED BENEFITS FOR VETERANS:
• Veterans' voices: After combat, a wait at the VA Hear veterans' stories about their experiences. (Public Insight Network)
• See a map that shows how claims backlogs are distributed across the country.
(Center for Investigative Reporting)
• VA backs off promise to fix veterans' claim backlog
"The Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically missed nearly all of its internal benchmarks for reducing a hulking backlog of benefits claims and has quietly backed away from repeated promises to give all veterans and family members speedier decisions by 2015. Internal VA documents, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, show the agency processed 260,000 fewer claims than it thought it would during the past year and a half — falling 130,000 short in the 2012 fiscal year and another 130,000 short of its goal between October and March. The result: At a time when the number of veterans facing long waits was supposed to be going down, it instead went up." (Aaron Glantz, Center for Investigative Reporting)
• 'Decades old problem' exacerbates benefits backlog for veterans (MSNBC)
• Vietnam veterans' new battle: getting disability compensation
"Linda Bilmes, a public policy professor at Harvard University, said the filings are a cautionary lesson. 'Wars have a long tail,' she said. 'The peak year for disability claims from Vietnam has not been reached yet.' By comparison, payments to veterans of World War I, which ended in 1918, were highest in 1969. Bilmes said the peak for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is likely to occur around 2050." (Los Angeles Times)
• Vets disability benefits: Law schools curb backlog
The VA has come under heavy criticism for the number of disability claims pending longer than 125 days — about 570,000. That's nearly two-thirds of all claims pending. "We want to respect our veterans, but when you've got people waiting, often times in excess of a year to get their claims processed, that's not a good sign," said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. "This is a national embarrassment." (The Miami Herald)