The plight of the former U.S. Navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden has brought national attention to the disgraceful record of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in processing veterans’ disability claims.
The former Seal applied for disability benefits, which are awarded to veterans who suffer physical or mental injuries during their military service. But he soon learned that the average waiting time for a veteran’s disability claim to be processed is nine months or longer, depending on where you live.
The VA has been working to speed up its performance, switching to a new processing system designed to eliminate paper records. It hopes to have the system in all of its offices by the end of the year.
But despite the VA’s best effort to improve the way it processes claims, things have actually gotten worse. Problems with the new system “have made the claims process more difficult, rather than improving efficiency as intended,” concluded the department’s inspector general in an audit report released earlier this month.
The VA has been trying for years to reduce waiting times for disability claims, which amount to more than 1 million per year. The department’s long-term goal is for no disability claim to be pending for more than 125 days, but from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, the processing time actually rose from an average of 188 days to complete a claim to 262 days, according to the VA.
Nearly 19,500 veterans have died while waiting for the VA to review their disability benefits claims. That is shameful. The men and women who served and defended our country deserve much better than that.