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VA Experiencing Increase in Disability Claims

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-07-19 (Rev. 2010-03-28) - Veterans Advocates state that the real backlog is actually closer to one million claims. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss.
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What the VA doesn't like to talk about is how very easy it is to simply get lost in the system if a veteran does not actively pursue a claim. Michael Walcoff, Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration states, "There are some positive signs in terms of what we're doing, but we know that veterans deserve better." Statements such as this one have seemingly become the mantra of the Veterans Administration.

Damian Todd served two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corps; when he came home he experienced flashes of anger and re-plays of battle scenes in his mind. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The United States Government; however, has been slow to respond to his disability claim, which would entitle him to a monthly benefit check. Eighteen months passed before the Veterans Administration granted his claim.

Mr. Todd is only one veteran of many who are seeking disability compensation from the VA for either physical or psychological disabilities connected to their service. There is a backlog of claims that now numbers over four-hundred thousand, a number that is up from the two-hundred and fifty-three thousand six years ago. The average time to process a claim is one-hundred and sixty-two days according to the VA, a rate that that is better than it has been in eight years. The VA does not deny that it still has a major problem on its hands, and that some claims still take months due to an overtaxed system.

What the VA doesn't like to talk about is how very easy it is to simply get lost in the system if a veteran does not actively pursue a claim. Michael Walcoff, Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration states, "There are some positive signs in terms of what we're doing, but we know that veterans deserve better." Statements such as this one have seemingly become the mantra of the Veterans Administration.

Michael Walcoff says the department has hired four-thousand two-hundred new claims processors, but that they will not be trained for months. Not only are veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, aging Vietnam veterans who have either worsening or new disabilities or ailments are asking for care as well. Most of the eighty-two thousand claims received by the VA every month are not from veterans returning from current wars. Layoffs are driving unemployed veterans into the department for the first time.

Veterans Advocates state that the real backlog is actually closer to one million claims. Advocates also point out the discovery last year of benefits applications in disposal bins at several department offices - evidence of lousy handling of claims. These same Advocates also mention that they regularly witness frustratingly long delays over what appear to be straightforward claims. Veterans for Common Sense has records that show some veterans are calling suicide hot-lines to speak about their delayed disability claims. The group called on the department to replace processors who take exceedingly long amounts of time to process claims.

Veterans who are able to demonstrate that either a physical or psychological disability is the result of their military service are eligible for compensation. If the injury is severe enough, they will receive free health care. All new veterans are eligible for health care for five years upon leaving the service, whether or not they were injured. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most prevalent disability claims after back and knee injuries. Delays in receiving PTSD claims have prompted members of Congress to propose legislation which would reduce the documentation required to prove that a veteran's disorder was caused by specific combat events.

Veteran Damian Todd is trying to start his own business here at home. He says, "There are a lot of other kids who need the money more. I just want the process to change, because it is ridiculous." Mr. Todd flew helicopters in Anbar Province, as well as serving in an infantry unit in Ramadi; he left the Marines with the rank of Captain.






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