Injured veterans need help, fewer delays

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A veteran’s average wait time after filing a claim is 273 days, according to the VA

By Landmark News Service

After an appalling display of inefficiency in helping disabled veterans earlier this year — nearly 900,000 had pending disability claims, and two-thirds of those had been waiting for at least four months — the Department of Veterans Affairs has made progress.
In four months, the backlog has shrunk by nearly 20 percent, President Barack Obama told the Disabled American Veterans convention recently. Claims processors are working overtime through next month, and a switch to computerized records rather than manual has helped speed the work.
But for veterans who were injured while serving our country and have waited months for help, it’s not nearly enough.
The number of claims — and the delays — has grown in recent years as more veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Claims also have increased since Obama broadened coverage for Vietnam War veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, and since the VA increased service for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Numbers from the VA show a veteran’s average wait time after filing a claim is 273 days. It’s nearly two months longer for vets who file their first claims, including those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Obama took office, the number of vets who wait more than a year for benefits soared, incredibly, more than 2,000 percent.
The president, declaring that the nation must do more to help those who served, announced a comprehensive, $100 million plan to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
The problem, predictably, is the political logjam in Washington, D.C. A bipartisan, 10-point plan in the U.S. Senate to reform the disability claims process would have added $20 million to the department’s technology budget to upgrade computer systems, hire more processors and put in place an accountability structure.
The House balked at the measure. Among the problems, its leaders said: The president has failed to hold VA executives accountable for preventable deaths at VA medical centers.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has promised to eliminate the backlog by 2015. But major progress in eliminating the backlog is unlikely to happen until Congress passes a budget — something it hasn’t done in more than four years.
Obama waded into the political fray when he told the disabled veterans at the convention that the automatic job cuts could jeopardize their benefits. Actually, the VA is exempt from the sequester.
But he was right that veterans “shouldn’t have to wait years for the benefits” they have earned.
For 496,000 men and women with service-related disabilities, who already have waited more than four months without satisfaction, those words ring hollow.

This Landmark News Service editorial was first published in The Virginian-Pilot.