VAOIG / Time.com A glimpse at the paper claims in the VA's Winston-Salem, N.C., office
Veterans across the nation are waiting an average of 260 days for a decision on a war-related disability claim – three days longer than last week and 80 days longer than in mid-2011, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
More than 815,000 veterans across the nation are waiting for a response from the VA this week.
An analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of California Watch and The Bay Citizen, shows that in the last year, average wait times around the country slowly increased to more than a year for veterans in the nation’s most sluggish offices – Los Angeles; Waco, Texas; and Chicago among them.
The new numbers show some slow but measurable progress: The backlog at 42 of the offices shrank, while it grew at 16 other offices by as much as 2 percent, according to CIR’s interactive map.
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While they wait, many veterans cannot access essential services or receive compensation for wounds suffered fighting overseas, as The Bay Citizen has reported. A new report by The New York Times underscores the extent to which some families must sacrifice:
For Doris Hink, the widow of a World War II veteran, it was the waiting. The department took nearly two years to process her claim for a survivor’s pension, forcing her daughter to take $12,000 from savings to pay nursing home bills.
The wait times and backlog are the combined result of the superior medical treatment received by wounded soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and an aging population of Vietnam veterans. The number of new claims received has grown from 750,000 in 2004 to more than 1.25 million in 2011, according to The Times.
The VA has attempted to shrink the backlog by hiring more claims processors, but it seems unable to catch up. Congress addressed the waits earlier this week seeking to study and potentially expand a $1.5 million pilot plan to hire 16 new employees to process claims in Texas, where two of the nation’s largest backlogs exist. Texas implemented in 2009 a similar but smaller strike team that reduced the backlog by 17,000 claims over several months.
“Despite this success, the situation has since worsened for veterans not only in Texas but across the country,” said U.S. Rep Jon Runyan, R-N.J., chairman on the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, in an opening statement. “As the amount of pending claims has doubled since that time.“
Check the Center for Investigative Reporting’s interactive map weekly for new numbers.