Tags: veterans | backlog | VA | benefits

Veterans Still Waiting Up to 300 Days for Benefits

Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 11:13 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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More than 700,000 veterans are still waiting for benefits in a backlog that can take nearly a year to navigate, despite President Barack Obama's promises to reduce claim decision times to an average of only 125 days by the end of 2015.

Some steps were taken this year to shrink the backlog after the release of a scathing report in March noting that a growing number of veterans were waiting more than a year for benefits to be approved.

But today the average wait is still nearly 300 days, according to The Washington Times.

Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, wants to know why.

"Congress has provided the VA with everything it has asked for to reduce the backlog, so why is the department not delivering the results its leaders promised?" the Florida Republican asked.

Nearly 435,000 of the 736,000 VA claims awaiting processing have been on hold longer than Obama's 125-day goal, and the VA is about 100,000 claims short of its goal for fiscal year 2013. The backlog rates would have been even higher, VA records show, but the agency got 270,000 fewer claims than it had been expecting.

Still, the number of total claims and claims older than 125 days each decreased by around 100,000 from the numbers reported last year, the Times noted.

Claims are up from veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most of the VA's backlog comes from claims filed by Vietnam War vets now seeking benefits under a 2010 Obama administration order allowing benefits for health issues associated with the use of Agent Orange, which has been tied to an increase in prostate cancer among veterans from that era.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the Times that "clear progress" is still being made in reducing the wait times. But he acknowledged that veterans "shouldn't have to wait for the benefits they've earned."

In his Veterans Day speech Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, the president promised to keep working to reduce the claims backlog, which he noted had been cut by one-third since March.

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