7:02 PM EST, February 7, 2013
Members of the American armed forces ought to be able to stop fighting after their tour of duty is done. But the ordeal that many wounded or mentally dysfunctional veterans face in getting disability payments upon their return home is anything but easy.
The U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration takes far too long in processing claims for disability benefits and in making decisions on appeals when claims have been turned down, according to a report by Peggy McCarthy of the Connecticut Health I-Team.
The VBA must make good on its pledge to reduce the time it takes to make decisions on benefit claims and appeals. Surely veterans, who have sacrificed so much, deserve no less.
In Connecticut, veterans typically wait more than seven months — an average of 213 days — to have their claims processed, according to figures compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The VBA's goal is no more than 125 days.
For appeals, the average wait is an astounding 1,181 days — more than three years.
Nationally, more than 800,000 claims are pending; 71 percent are considered backlogged, with an average wait time of nine months.
Why so long?
The Veterans Benefits Administration has been hobbled by what state veterans affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz calls an "archaic" paper system. Also — and this is hard to believe — the federal Veterans Administration apparently failed to anticipate the increased caseload brought on by the returning glut of war fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan and did little to upgrade its capacity to process claims.
A board member of the nonprofit Veterans for Common Sense said that while waiting for claims decisions, "veterans are losing their houses to foreclosure, being evicted from apartments, having cars repossessed, can't pay their bills and their credit is being destroyed."
And many veterans die waiting for a decision on their benefits claim or on their appeals.
It shouldn't be this way. President Obama who, along with his wife, Michelle Obama, has made the welfare of military families a top priority, should throw the weight of his office behind efforts to quickly modernize the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Getting veterans their disability payments is the least we can do.
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