Veterans Affairs does about-face, working OT to fix benefits backlog

For 284 days, Adam Legg, a 31-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, reportedly languished as he waited for a ruling on a claim submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs concerning service-related injuries.

Meanwhile, the Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Navy veteran saw his two vehicles repossessed and his home go into foreclosure because of a mortgage in arrears.

"It was ingrained in me that it's my job to take care of my family," Legg tells the Los Angeles Times, "and I felt like a complete failure."

The former serviceman now reportedly receives a monthly $1,100 disability payment related to that long-standing injury and its related VA claim, but told the Times, “When you feel like the VA doesn't care, you feel like the country doesn't care. Somebody willing to give their life for the country, they deserve a little better."


However, The Times now writes there may be hope on the horizon for veterans like Legg, who have waited as many as 588 days for the VA to rule on their service-related injury claims.

Of late, the VA has reportedly hired more claims processors, revamped its training regimen and made it a standing requirement employees work 20 hours of overtime each month to clear the backlog, and -- perhaps most notably -- instituted a new computer system allowing workers to consider a vet’s injuries with a few mouse clicks.

"The backlog is now declining," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in July, according to The Times. "We are somewhat behind where we predicted and would have wanted to be, but that percentage will shift downward quickly."

Indeed, by late June 20, the VA reportedly said it had processed 97 percent of claims pending for two years or longer, rendering decisions in more than 65,000 cases, according to the Times.

And the department has set a 2015 target date for meeting the ambitious goal of completing all claims by 125 days.

The backlog of standing claims before the VA is well-documented.

The Times reports that as of last Monday, more than 751,000 claims were pending nationwide; 457,000 of them for more than 125 days, the VA's standard for timeliness.

Some are skeptical.

The Times quotes Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, as saying, “The numbers have come down significantly, but to address the backlog by 2015 is still going to be a herculean task.”

The Times notes about half of all VA cases are still processed on paper, and that at one office in Winston-Salem, N.C., inspectors actually said the building’s floors were buckling under the weight of unprocessed files.

"Most of our members are under 30 years old. They don't understand how this is a problem in the year 2013," Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the veterans’ advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the newspaper. "The real question is … what do these vets do in the meantime?"

However, the hopeful cite the VA’s aforementioned new computer system – three years in the making – which won’t actually be fully up-and-running until next year.

Click for the story from The Los Angeles Times.