‘Decades old problem’ exacerbates benefits backlog for veterans


As Memorial Day approaches and the nation takes a moment to salute our veterans, hundreds of thousands are currently at war with the Department of Veteran Affairs over pending disability claims.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been scrambling to fix its backlog, which has reached 584,308 claims that have been pending for 125 days or more. About 873,680 veterans have filed claims and that number continues to grow.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have started a petition urging President Obama to intervene and end the backlog. They have started an aggressive social media campaign by using the hashtag #EndTheVABacklog and compiled a list of solutions to achieve the ultimate endgame for this process.

Many factors have contributed to the backlog, including a paper-based process system which should be digitized by the end of this year and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer for IAVA, addressed the paper system on Andrea Mitchell Reports Friday, calling it “a decades old problem.”

“The good news is that the Department of Veteran Affairs is switching to an entirely digital system and as of April of this year, they are not receiving any more paper for claims,” Tarantino said. “The problem is that the majority of the claims in the backlog are either resubmitted claims or older claims so 97% of that claims that are waiting are still in stacks of paper and it is going to take a very long time to walk through those  and frankly, even though they should have anticipated that they have not built the systems to do that in a timely fashion.”

The filed claims include both medical benefits and current needs. According to Tarantino veterans are seeking benefits for assistance with “hearing  loss, tinnitus, scarring, vision loss.” Benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries have also increased but because both are “difficult to diagnose,” they are “difficult to reign”

“As we’re seeing a lot more of these injuries come, especially from the Iraq and Afghanistan generation – who are surviving combat and living with much more complicated injuries, it becomes more difficult to rate,” Tarantino said. “The problem is that the Department of Veteran Affairs did not anticipate this and here we are 11, 12 years into the war and they’re saying well, we’re just seeing this huge flood of cases that they should have anticipated five or six years ago.”

When Mitchell asked Tarantino whether a shakeup is leadership is needed at the Department of Veteran Affairs, he expressed optimism that the changes being made now “will help prevent the backlog in the future,” saying “I think we’re going to see a much more efficient system.”

Tarantino explains that The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are calling on “the president to lead.”

“This isn’t just about the VA,” Tarantino said. “It’s about making sure that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have the same medical records. People who make the veterans and people who care for the veterans should be looking at the exact same file. But right now if you’re a right, you don’t – the President of the United States does not give you clarity as to when you’re going to see an end to your long wait.”

'Decades old problem' exacerbates benefits backlog for veterans