In 2011, the number of disabled veterans filing disability claims rose by nearly 40 percent compared to previous years. In addition to that delay, the time it took to for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process veteran education, burial benefits, and appeals also increased in 2012. Despite significant and ongoing efforts by federal officials to streamline the decision-making process for veterans’ claims, delays still continue. The question many disabled veterans are asking is “Why?”
“The entire system is a mess,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a support and advocacy group. “They’ve been saying now for 10 years that it’ll get better, and it still doesn’t get better, and we’ve seen tremendous frustration from our members in the last few months. It’s reached a breaking point.”
The VA stated that it is still working on speeding up the claims-approval process. They say the system is in the process of an overhaul that should expedite the process and reduce wait times.
“We recognize that from the standpoint of the veterans, they are waiting too long, and that’s unacceptable,” said Diana Rubens, who helps oversee the VA’s regional offices. “We’ve got to transform how we do things. We know that fixing decades-old problems is not going to be easy.”
The VA wants the average wait time for claim approval to be 90 days. In 2012, the wait reached an all-time high of 262 days, up from 188 days in 2011. This is the highest recorded wait time in more than 20 years. There are currently 56 regional offices that handle claims, but the claims process is still paper-based, despite alternative technology that could have improved the current system available for nearly a decade.
Disability benefits are awarded to veterans who have mental or physical injuries that resulted from their time serving in the military. The award amounts are based on how severe the disability is, and they range from $129 a month to $2,816 a month for a single veteran.
The number of veterans applying for benefits has increased dramatically, with as many as 1 million new applicants per year. This is due to a combination of new injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as older veterans who are now eligible for claims on new conditions.
Recently, Concerned Veterans for America ran an Op-Ed story in The Washington Post that was co-penned by two veterans–California Representative Duncan Hunter and Pete Hegseth, chief executive of CVA. The piece is called “Time to Shake Up the Dysfunctional VA” and is a a call-to-arms, so to speak, to remove current Department of Veterans Affairs cabinet secretary Eric Shinseki, suggesting that he is not up to the challenge of VA leadership. You can read the whole article here.
Have you or a loved one had to navigate the VA benefits maze? How long was your wait time? What do you think needs to change to expedite the process?