Elderly wartime veterans have much to gain if the shameful backlog of VA benefits claims can finally be overcome.
Each year, on the last Monday in May, America sets aside Memorial Day to honor the servicemen and women who gave their lives serving our nation. We owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to these brave men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and safety. But this debt of gratitude extends to all those who served our country. One of the best ways to memorialize soldiers who fell serving America is to honor their surviving brothers in arms — our veterans. But by all account our the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, whose responsibility it is to serve our veterans, has largely failed in its role. The agency is working frantically to tackle a backlog of veterans benefits claims that has brought it, and its leader, under heavy fire.
Debbie Burak, whose father served in the Second World War, has dedicated her life to serving veterans. She runs the veteran’s advocacy website VeteranAid.org. Originally a goal of her site was simply to spread awareness of benefits for veterans such as the Aid and Attendance benefit. She said she started the site because she realized that he would have been eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in assistance for care in his final years if she know about the benefits he qualified for. But now her site’s emphasis is also promoting change at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve the speed and efficiency with which they process claims for assistance.
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The VA has received heavy criticism for the large number of backlogged benefits claims. (A backlogged claim is one which has been pending for more than 125 days.) Burak told us, “There are more than 1 million claims waiting. Veteran’s groups have marched into DC demanding that the VA be held accountable, and one group is calling for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. It truly is a national disgrace that this agency continues to fail our veterans on a daily basis.”
The backlog of claims for veterans benefits means that senior veterans are often waiting more than a year for their claims for benefits such as Aid and Attendance to be processed. The Aid and Attendance benefit is for older wartime veterans who require personal care but can’t afford it independently Seniors who are waiting for their claims to processed and can’t live independently are either risking their health and safety by living at home without care during the wait, or they are receiving unpaid care from a loved one who has quite likely left the workforce to become a caregiver.
There are signs that the backlog may be shrinking. This issue has actually gotten more attention than ever in the last couple of weeks or so. Earlier this week, Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program, The Daily Show, dedicated a large part of his television program to the backlog, referring to the sorry situation as “Operation Enduring Wait.”
David Bolser of SeniorVet.org, another organization that attempts to help older veterans receive benefits that they were promised and are entitled to, told us, “The average wait time for a VA claim is now 239 days. The VA still uses a paper system and there is ongoing work to implement a digitized system.” The VA has also recently initiated an overtime surge at its 56 regional offices to make headway against the mountain of backlogged claims, but VA Secretary Shinseki says that it will be 2015 before the backlog is gone.
Center of Investigative Reporting has a neat interactive map that allows you to view wait times and backlogs at at the VA’s 58 regional offices yourself so that you can monitor how the VA is doing in it’s efforts to eliminate the backlog.
Are you or a loved one part of the now famous backlog for VA benefits claims? How long have you been waiting? Are you hopeful your claim will be resolved soon? We welcome your comments below.