Disabled veterans face difficult challenges when applying for benefits. The application backlog can take more than a year and bureaucratic confusion often results in mysterious benefit denials.
Despite their enormous sacrifices, disabled veterans who come home after serving abroad often face yet another daunting and demoralizing battle: applying for disability benefits.
Due to the enormous backlog of applications, many veterans must endure a long wait without government assistance. Inconsistencies between government offices also leave some veterans in the lurch by suspiciously denying benefits. All of this adds up to a frustrating and difficult experience for many returning soldiers.
More Veterans, More Injuries, More Frustration
The average application process for Army disability claims takes 427 days. This is much longer than the Veterans Affairs' goal of 295 days. As of the end of July 2012, the disability system was behind by 26,000 cases.
Part of the backlog may be due to changing characteristics of the veteran population. While aging Vietnam-era veterans face new and different challenges related to their time in the service, returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq also present new challenges. Army medicine and equipment are helping more soldiers survive the battlefield at higher rates.
But these soldiers still return home with more injuries and debilitating conditions. The average disability application now lists 10 injuries or disorders - much more than Vietnam war veterans who only listed an average of six. This probably also reflects greater awareness of difficult conditions like PTSD.
Although Congress continues to look for ways to improve the system's handling of applications, the backlog persists and shows no signs of going away anytime soon.
Stuck Between Contradictions
As if the massive backlog were not enough of an obstacle for disabled veterans, many applicants find themselves facing benefit denials. In 2007, several government commissions criticized the system for denying legitimate benefits requests. Some new policies have tried to improve this but instances of denied benefits still occur.
Inconsistent or completely contradictory assessments from different government agencies are particularly frustrating for many veterans. For example, the VA's assessment might differ from the armed forces branch's decision - causing veterans to receive basic care through the VA but no disability benefits for the exact same conditions.
In another recent case, one branch initially decided that a serviceman was unfit to continue deployment but not disabled enough to qualify for benefits. An appeal reversed that decision and allowed the soldier to re-deploy. But after the Navy later separated him without benefits, it did not allow him to re-enlist because of the very same conditions.
The process for appealing a benefits denial takes even more time on top of the already lengthy backlog wait. This adds to the other frustrating difficulties of the disability application process.
Between the long waits, bureaucratic confusion, and frequent denials, applying for well-deserved disability benefits can be a difficult nightmare for many veterans. And despite congressional scrutiny, this unfortunate situation does not seem likely to improve in the near future.
Attorney Kenneth Hiller, of The Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC, is dedicated to helping disabled clients obtain the Social Security benefits they need and deserve - www.kennethhillerlaw.com
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