By Dyhouse, Tim
VFW Magazine , Vol. 94, No. 5
Some 176,000 vets of Iraq and Afghanistan have sought compensation from VA. Experts believe that number could grow to more than 400,000. by Tim Dyhouse
Over the last five years, some 28% of discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have filed service-connected disability claims with VA. VFW's concern is how VA plans to process the influx.
"VA can't handle the load they have now," said Bill Bradshaw, VFW's director of National Veterans Service (NVS). "Last week [Nov. 6-10] the claims backlog was more than 600,000. The solution is obviously to hire more staff, but when you realize that it takes the average VA claims processor two to three years to become proficient and then another two to three years to become proficient as a ratings specialist, you see there is no quick fix."
400,000 is a Low Estimate
It's clear that more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will be filing VA disability claims. An October New York Times article reported that a former VA analyst estimated some 400,000 returning GIs could eventually apply for benefits.
But Jerry Manar, who tracks VA benefits statistics and compensation trends for VFW as deputy director of NVS, predicts the actual number will be "significantly more" than 400,000.
"Iraq and Afghanistan vets are being actively encouraged to apply for VA benefits," he said. "That didn't happen following WWII, Korea or Vietnam."
Since the Afghanistan War began on Oct. 7, 2001, about 1.5 million GIs have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Through August 2006, according to VA statistics, 633,867 of them had left the service, and 176,111, or some 28%, had filed claims.
VA has granted a majority-58%-of the claims filed. VA documents obtained by the National security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., revealed that as of July 20, 2006, an overwhelming majority (nearly 70%) of vets were granted a disability rating of 30% or less. But only 1.5% of claims resulted in a 100% disability rating.
Most claims (about 42%) were for muscle and bone problems, such as bad backs. Another 35% of troops suffered from mental conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Democratic members of the House VA Committee released a report in October stating that PTSD cases had doubled-from nearly 4,500 to more than 9,000-between October 2005 and June 2006. …