At Oakland’s VBA Office, “There Isn’t Any There There”

Embattled Regional Office Still Fails Veterans.  

In a statement released Thursday, VA said the agency’s Oakland facility has “significantly improved” thanks to the retraining of its entire staff and new bureaucratic approaches, which has increased worker productivity.

Not so fast. 

Two days ago, a scathing news report by Aaron Glantz, an investigative reporter with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), tells a different story. Internal VA performance data obtained by CIR shows that while the number of Northern California Veterans waiting on claim decisions has dropped slightly over the past year, delays processing claims worsened considerably.

CIR notes that veterans wait an average of 426 days for a decision from the Oakland office, up 84 days from last May and 282 days from 2009, according to CIR. The number of veterans waiting over a year for their benefits has increased by more than 5,000 since last year’s forum to 19,384 at the end of March 2013.

CIR reported last month that VA failed to provide key information to Congress and the public that shows the agency’s ability to quickly provide service-related benefits has virtually collapsed under President Obama. Delays newly returning veterans face before receiving disability compensation and other benefits are far longer than the agency has publicly acknowledged, CIR noted.

The Oakland office remains a target of sustained media interest for more than one year. David Smith, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq and is now a student at the University of California, told The New York Times one year ago that he had to wait 414 days for the Oakland office to approve his disability claim for depression, back pain and injuries to both knees.

The economic impact on Veterans is severe.  “You can’t pay for your truck, can’t pay for your food,” Veteran David Smith said.  “If you have a family, it can make life impossible.

VA is working with Congress and non-profits to fix VA’s besieged office. In San Francisco today, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) holds an open meeting with Veterans and VA to discuss the worsening situation, according to the San Jose Mercury-News.

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