Crisis at the VA as Benefits Claims Backlog Nearly Tops One Million
by Jason Leopold, June 5, 2009
During the past four months, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) backlog of unfinished disability claims grew by more than 100,000, adding to an already mountainous backlog that is now close to topping one million.
The VA’s claims backlog, which includes all benefits claims and all appeals at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans Appeals at VA, was 803,000 on January 5, 2009. The backlog hit 915,000 on May 4, 2009, a staggering 14 percent increase in four months.
The issue has become so dire that veterans now wait an average of six months to receive disability benefits and as long as four years for their appeals to be heard in cases where their benefits were denied.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said during a hearing in March that the VA is “almost criminally behind in processing claims.”
Overhauling the VA represents one of the most daunting challenges facing the Obama administration after years of mismanagement and neglect by the Bush administration, which stacked the agency with political cronies and kept the agency underfunded, wrapped in bureaucratic red tape and placed the interests of veterans last on a list of priorities.
Indeed, one of the VA’s biggest failures during the Bush administration’s tenure was its inability to fully implement critical components of the Mental Health Strategic Plan (MHSP) at regional offices throughout the country.
The MHSP, unveiled in 2004, would have provided veterans who show signs of being at risk of suicide or are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with immediate mental health care and eliminated the waiting period for receiving treatment.
But according to a November 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), spending for the program was substantially less than what the VA had proposed – leaving untreated tens of thousands of veterans who were at risk of suicide.