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Shocking New Numbers on Veteran Claim Wait Times

US Capitol Building

Center for Investigative Reporting Exposes VBA’s Chronic Failures to Serve Veterans.  

Another stellar but saddening and maddening piece of reporting this week from reporter Aaron Glantz at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) shines a very harsh light on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The release of the information sparked a battle between VA and Congress.

Writing that disability claims processing has “collapsed under President Obama,” Glantz reveals the shocking inability of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to quickly provide service-related benefits to Veterans or reveal salient facts to Congress and the public.

Bergmann & Moore was quoted in the Bay Citizen article: “VA is at a day of reckoning,” said Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and former senior VA project manager who now works for the Washington, D.C.-area law firm Bergmann & Moore.  The agency, he said, “needs to publicly come forward and disclose the severity of the claims delay and error crisis, because Congress can’t fix it until VA is forthcoming about all their symptoms.”

VA is at a day of reckoning,” said Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and former senior VA project manager who now works for the Washington, D.C.-area law firm Bergmann & Moore.

Internal VBA documents obtained exclusively by CIR and authenticated by VBA document how the delays Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans face before receiving disability compensation and other benefits are far longer than the agency has publicly acknowledged.

In an article published Monday, the Bay Citizen reports the national wait time for Veterans averages 273 days.  However, VBA’s internal data reveals a far more serious claim delay and error crisis:

  • Veterans filing their first claim, including those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, actually wait nearly two months longer – between 316 and 327 days.
  • Veterans filing for the first time in America’s largest cities wait up to twice as long – 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago.
  • Veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits grew from 11,000 in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, to 245,000 in December 2012.

These are stunning and inexcusable numbers.  As Glantz rightly points out, the government is certainly not fulfilling its obligation to our Veterans, and the promises the President made to fix the broken claims bureaucracy remain unfulfilled.

The White House had no comment. In a statement, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called on the President to act immediately.

The fallout from the CIR article is fast and furious.  On Monday, the New York Times demanded action, pointing out Glantz’s finding that while the agency has spent four years and $537 million on a new computer system, 97 percent of Veterans’ claims are still filed on paper. VBA’s staffing and computerization sound good in theory, but they are not working in practice.

As the Times noted, Glantz’s article includes a map showing the magnitude of the problem and a photo from a report last August by VA’s Office of the Inspector General about an office in Winston-Salem, NC, so stuffed with Veterans’ claims folders that they “appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building.”

Joe Klein at TIME Magazine took veterans’ ire one step further, calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign due to the 900,000 unfinished disability claims sitting at VBA.

It’s good that reporters like Aaron Glantz at the Bay Citizen plus editorials in the New York Times keep VBA’s feet to the fire.

But the VBA numbers remain truly scandalous, especially when VBA leaders withheld key facts from Congress, according to the Washington Examiner.  When Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) requested information about VBA’s claim delay and error crisis, VBA’s Under Secretary Allison Hickey equivocated.  Could VA be headed toward a confrontation with Congress?

The issue is serious. Glantz previously reported 19,500 veterans died in 2012 waiting on VBA claims processors.

VBA’s first step to resolve the “collapse” Glantz describes is full disclosure and transparency as Bergmann & Moore told the Bay Citizen.  The next step is a frank dialog with Congress so VA has the leadership, people, resources, and training in place so Veterans don’t die waiting on a VBA claim decision.

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