The number of open VA disability benefit and pension claims is approaching one million. Of that number, nearly two thirds (63 percent) have been backlogged for more than 125 days, according to official Veterans Administration figures (click on image for larger chart):
The reality may be much worse.
In September 2011, the County of San Bernadino (Ca.) Department of Veterans Affairs reported:
The average new [VA] claim processing time appears to be 12 to 18 months while appeals may take several years…in order to reduce unnecessary demands on the VA staff processing your claim, our Director has instructed our staff not to check on claims until at least six months has passed from the date the claim was filed.According to the New York Times, over 1.5 million U.S. service personnel served in Iraq during the course of the war, and nearly as many have rotated in and out of Afghanistan. The numbers are staggering, and should serve notice to the VA that incoming claims (which are on a pace of nearly 10,000 / month) will only continue to increase in the coming years. Even more concerning is that the backlog of claims processing is increasing at nearly twice the rate of new claims – for example, between November and December of this year, 9200 new claims were processed, while the backlog (over 125 days) rose by 20,000 claims.
This is simply unacceptable.
In the closing days of the American Civil War, and on the occasion of his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln concluded his remarks with the following paragraph:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.When the Veteran’s Administration was established in 1930, Lincoln’s words were enshrined as the mission of the VA:
To fulfill President Lincoln's promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.Last week, the President and First Lady addressed a gathering of troops at Ft. Bragg, NC to mark the withdrawal of U.S. military combat personnel from Iraq. Michelle Obama introduced her husband, and talked about America’s commitment to its returning veterans. The President then followed up with similar remarks, focusing on the unacceptable unemployment rate and lack of jobs available for those returning from the wars. And he said:
Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it. It’s not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you. That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force –- including your families. We will keep faith with you.While it’s laudable that the Obama administration is focusing specific efforts toward transitioning of OEF and OIF veterans, as is frequently the case, political speeches don’t necessarily square with reality. Even though the challenges to the VA benefits system were recognized several years ago, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed to “break the back of the claims backlog this year” in a speech to the annual American Legion Convention in 2010, the numbers of both new and backlogged VA claims continue to skyrocket. And the numbers crunchers know damn well that the situation is going to worsen in the foreseeable future.
Politicians and apparatchiks in both political parties expend a lot of empty words praising those serving (and who have served) in the military. But talk is cheap.
The Obama administration must keep the government’s promise to all veterans who have served during a time of war, regardless of the theater. At this moment in history, the bulk of that promise needs to be focused on a true commitment to aggressively resolving the government’s apparent inability (or unwillingness) to respond to the needs of veterans in a timely manner.
It’s a sad day when an obscure, oddball 2010 Senate candidate from Delaware (who is NOT Christine O’Donnell) gets the VA benefits claim process workflow about right:
6. Did the veteran die or commit suicide?
- If Yes then the claim is complete.
- If No then go to step 7.