'Overwhelmed' VA Claims System Is Strained to Its Limit

By Dyhouse, Tim | VFW Magazine, May 2007 | Go to article overview

'Overwhelmed' VA Claims System Is Strained to Its Limit


Dyhouse, Tim, VFW Magazine


More than 180,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had filed VA disability claims by the end of 2006, while some 600,000 claims remain backlogged. By Tim Dyhouse

It's true that VA health care has never been better. It now regularly ranks higher than private care based on patient satisfaction surveys. But in the area of compensating wounded veterans, VA is, according to veterans filing claims as well as independent analysts, a mess.

"The people at VA want to help, but the system is broken," said Jeffrey Lennon, a former Army Reserve sergeant who served in the Iraq War and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in March 2004. "They are just so overwhelmed."

According to the Boston Globe, Lennon had to wait a year before receiving a $348 monthly check for partial disability.

VA says its backlog of disability claims is up to more than 400,000, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, who spent a year researching VA's claims system, say it is actually 600,000. VFW says the backlog is closer to 800,000, with more than 100,000 claims decided wrongly every year.

"It is unacceptable because each delay and every wrong decision have real human costs," VFW Commander-inChief Gary Kurpius told a joint hearing of the House and Senate VA committees on March 6. "Fixing the Veterans Benefits Administration is important because the VBA is the gateway to all of VA. No disabled veterans should have to wait for benefits many of them need to care for themselves and their families."

GAO's Daniel Bertoni, testifying before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on March 14, said that "after more than a decade of research, we have determined that federal disability programs are in urgent need of attention and transformation."

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said, "I can't even begin to count the number of GAO reports over the years outlining the problems. It's been 20 years in the making trying to get VA and DoD to cooperate."

A bill, H.R. 1490, introduced March 13, would require VA to pay all claims from combat veterans and determine later-using post-approval spot checks and auditing-which claims are fraudulent.

What Does VA Intend to Do?

From the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 to the end of 2006, nearly 690,000 GIs had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 180,000 had filed disability claims with VA by the end of last year. That is a more than 50% increase from the end of 2005, when the number of claims was at 115,000. …

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'Overwhelmed' VA Claims System Is Strained to Its Limit
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