Hearing scheduled for Sept. 21
In May, a 93-year-old World War II veteran in a wheelchair attended a congressionally sponsored public meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? His disability claim was stuck gathering dust at VA for more than two years. VA kept asking for more documents.
In the same meeting, a 26-year old Air Force Veteran sexually assaulted while stationed in Germany shouted at VA officials for giving excuses. Her PTSD claim languished at VA for 2 years.
These veterans aren’t alone. VA’s claim inventory is nearly one million cases (1.1 million if you include appeals). And VA falls further and further behind. To make matters worse, after the claims are finally decided, VA makes errors at an astonishing and unacceptable rate. VA’s national error rate stands at 30%. Yet many VA offices are far worse: 53.2% in San Diego, 56.7% in Houston, and 60% in Los Angeles.
That’s right: according to VA’s Office of the Inspector General, more than 6 out of 10 claims processed in Los Angeles contains serious mistakes. Because of VA’s errors, VA’s inventory is a two-pronged issue: first, the initial flood of claims, and second, the claims which are sent back (or remanded) to the VA’s regional offices by the Board of Veterans Appeals or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. One veteran recently told Bergmann & Moore outreach staff, “It might be quicker and more accurate if VA just decided with a coin-toss.”
The worst VA office is in Waco, Texas. It takes an average of 403 days to process a claim. Houston isn’t far behind, with an average of 302 days. These numbers prompted several news investigations in Texas.
Congress is taking action. The House Veterans Affairs Committee scheduled another hearing for September 21, investigating both the high error rates and long wait times at both VA in Texas. This follows the creation by the Texas Veterans Commission of an unique “State Strike Force Team” designed to help reduce VA’s inventory nightmare.
Short-term measures, however, won’t solve the long-term problem. VA still processes nearly all disability claims using paper files, which pile up and back up. VA makes errors in too many cases, resulting in too many claims having to be redone. Promised computerization and automation of the claims process is still years from implementation.
The result? As of September 8, more than 897,000 cases are pending, with 66% of those sitting around for longer than four months. Another 255,000 claims currently await appeal.
Bergmann & Moore’s Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran who is managing director of public affairs and Veterans outreach, testified before Congress about the claims backlog this year. “With more than 1.1 million Veterans’s claims buried in VA bureaucracy,” Sullivan said, “The problem only gets worse.”
Want to know more? Follow our Bergmann & Moore blog where we regularly update you with the latest news about VA’s claims crisis and other issues related to the consequences of war.