Returning troops face long wait for VA benefits

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 10:46 PM

Updated Monday, May 13 at 11:01 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- The volume of benefit claims at the Veterans Administration is piling up, and the agency set up to help former military men and women is struggling.

According to a new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, there are currently about 800,000 veterans waiting an average of 332 days for their claims to processed.

In the New Orleans area alone, more than 14,000 vets wait for help with an average wait time of 354 days.

It wasn't hard to find angry vets outside the VA's downtown clinic.

"The only thing they're telling us is they are running us around, ragged and can't get no help. It's ridiculous," said Army Veteran Ricky Jacobs.

"They tell me that it's under review and I called back again the other day and they tell me its denied. because I missed some appointment and appointment that I never knew anything about," said Marine Corps Veteran McKinnley Polk.

Larry Jones from River Ridge retired after a combined 41-year career in the Air Force and Coast Guard. He now helps vets submit their claims.

"It's not an easy system," said Jones. "I've seen guys with losing a leg, losing an arm had to prove that they had a disability. It's like, come on."

Jones says the VA is overwhelmed by its own paperwork.

"We still have claims which in my humble opinion are very simple claims, for example hearing loss. Just one issue. I've got three or four cases that have been over a year, just guys looking for a hearing aid."

American Legion Past National Commander Bill Detweiler says many returning war vets, particularly those with post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, need immediate help. If they don't get it, bad things happen.

"Drugs, alcohol, you know, they bottom out if they don't commit suicide," said Detweiler.

Detweiler fears the backlog at the VA will grow even longer with the volume of claims from military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The American Legion is working very tirelessly as other veterans organizations are, trying to find a solution. But, right now we don't have a solution and it's going to get worse."

Mark Bologna, director of the New Orleans VA Regional Office, released a statement saying:

"Too many veterans, including those in Louisiana, wait too long for a decision on their benefits claims, and this has never been acceptable. VA is implementing a new initiative focusing on our oldest claims, and issuing provisional decisions with the evidence gathered while these claims were pending."

The VA now has a goal of eliminating the claims backlog by the end of 2015.

 

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