VA is a national disgrace: “They are routinely denying our military veterans benefits that we have earned on the battlefield”

Vietnam veteran James Davis, 59, of Willis has been trying since 2003 to get an increase in his VA disability benefits, but all he gets is a letter every six months saying he is being evaluated

 – Houston has highest appeals rate in the U.S. as benefits claims set records –

Borrowing for war and not paying the servicemembers who fight

By Lindsey Wise at the Houston Chronicle

Despite an influx of funds and staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the backlog of claims for benefits continues to grow at a record pace in Houston and nationwide.

VA received 1 million claims in 2009 for the first time in the department’s 80-year history. In Houston, the situation has worsened since the Houston Chronicle first reported on the local impact of the backlog more than a year ago.

The number of veterans waiting for the Houston VA Regional Office to process their disability compensation claims jumped from about 19,000 this time last year to nearly 24,000, an increase of 25 percent.

Almost half of those claims have been pending for more than four months, compared to 37 percent nationwide.

“Clearly Houston is suffering under significant strain, and their office needs attention from Washington so our veterans can get accurate and fast claims decisions,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit Veterans for Common Sense.

“So many veterans in Houston have been waiting too long,” Sullivan said.

He’s particularly troubled that Houston has 12,060 claims in appeal, the highest number in the country for the second year in a row.

“The high number of veterans’ claims awaiting an appeal decision — which often takes four to five years – indicates the Houston office may still have serious and significant quality and accuracy problems,” he said.

The Houston Regional Office, which serves almost 760,000 veterans and their dependents in 90 Texas counties, is dedicated to the timely and accurate processing of disability claims, VA spokeswoman Jennifer Heim said in a written statement.

“We are steadily reducing the inventory of pending claims, while continuing to address the appeals,” Heim said. “We have seen a significant increase in productivity within the existing workforce.”

In August, for example, the office completed 3,898 disability compensation claims, up from 2,862 in the same month last year.

Waiting since 2003

Heim attributed the significant increase in claims and appeals in Houston to outreach efforts to communicate VA’s mission and the type of benefits available to veterans. She said the Houston VA Regional Office recently hired 50 veteran service representatives and promoted nearly 40 others to help reduce the backlog. The office also continues to outsource some of its claims processing to other regional offices, she said.

Vietnam veteran James Davis, 59, of Willis has been waiting since 2003 for a final decision on his request for increased disability benefits.

Davis, his wife, and his disabled mother barely scrape by on the $845 disability check he gets from the VA monthly for post-traumatic stress disorder and shattered knees.

“All I get is a letter every six months explaining to me that they are still evaluating my status,” Davis said.

“I’ve been waiting for what, seven years now,” he said. “Hell, I’m 59 years old. They’ll wait till I’m dead till they finally make up a decision. And even then it probably won’t be in my favor.”

Sullivan said the growing backlog is the cumulative effect of new VA rules about PTSD, Agent Orange and Gulf War-related illnesses, a tidal wave of new claims from half a million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and the nation’s economic crisis, which left many veterans without private health insurance to treat their military-related medical problems.

“That’s five different things that all slammed VA at the same time,” Sullivan said. “VA has some initiatives, to their credit, that they hope will mitigate the disaster.”

More workers hired

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki recently touted the department’s efforts to reduce the backlog at the annual American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee, according to American Forces Press Service.

“We intend to break the back of the backlog this year,” Shinseki said at the convention last week.

VA hired more than 3,500 claims workers this year to deal with the backlog. The department also invested hundreds of millions in a computerized claims process and electronic records system.

Shinseki said the goal is to reduce the time it takes the department to process a claim from the current average of 160 days to 125 days by the end of the year.

Does anyone care?

Vietnam veteran Bain Slack, 68, of Houston, isn’t holding out too much hope that VA will become more efficient. He’s been waiting more than two years for VA to decide on his appeal for increased disability benefits.

Slack, who flew almost 800 combat missions as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam, became disabled in 2004 after suffering stroke and aneurism of the aorta. He’s also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, ringing in the ears and hearing loss.

Slack said he’s submitted extensive medical and military records that connect his health problems to his service, so he can’t understand why his appeal is taking so long.

Slack and his wife, a schoolteacher, recently had to put their house up for sale. He hasn’t been able to work for six years because of his disability, and money is tight. Sometimes he doubts anyone at the VA cares.

“The VA is a national disgrace,” Slack said. “They are routinely denying our military veterans benefits that we have earned on the battlefield, and it’s gotta stop.”

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17 Responses to "VA is a national disgrace: “They are routinely denying our military veterans benefits that we have earned on the battlefield”"

  1. Scott  October 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Back to the story at hand. Something really doesn’t seem right here, the guy should have requested pension while he was awaiting his appeal and penson for one Veteran is 985 a month and if you have two dependents like this article is insinuating than in would be alot more. I also wonder why the other’s who are with him are not on SSI or receive some kind of program like food stamps ect. The VA has always done me good, it may have been long waiting times for claims but they have always treated me fair and the medical personel have been very caring and very professional everytime I have visited the medical centers. I have even had doctors calling me after hours to make sure I am doing all right, they go well beyond the call of duty for sure. There are alot of claims waiting for decisions and about all you can do it wait your turn, it will come and they will be fair in their decision and if for some reason you feel something is not right with their decision then yes you can appeal and again that can take many years due to all the appeals that are having to be decided on. It seems to take anywhere from 6 months to a year for a claim to be rated and if appealed to the DRO antoher two year wait and if it goes to BVA could be about four years if it is remanded back to the regional office, so you see how the years can add up. Most the Veterans I know had to wait their turns in line too, but they do all agree that the medical care is really appreciated.

  2. George Maynard  October 1, 2010 at 9:51 am

    David, The VA has guide lines related to PTSD. I am A Korea Peace Action and Vietnam Conflict Veteran, Also an Atomic Veteran having participated in 23 Nuclear Weapons test close proximity, Operation Plumbbob, Google it. I am permanently and totally disabled with A 90% overall rating and being paid at 100% rate. I am 70% Combat Related service connected and 50% rated PTSD Nuclear Explosions related. True I know some Veterans abuse and use the system. However the follow the example set by Our Elected Government Officials who Lie, Cheat and Steal it’s the Government way. Oh by the way I waited 40 years before my first VA Claim was awarded.
    George Maynard
    MSgt Retired. Nuclear Veteran

  3. Dale R. Suiter  September 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    One of the responses notes “…county counselor…” This is very good advice. A knowlegable person can do wonders with “the system”. Finding a competent (and persistent) person is one way of eventually succeeding with the VA. My veiw includes that the bureauracy of the VA is an adversarial system. Vets must prove their medical issue to government and prove it is service connected. Most of the people in the VA however care about the Vet and his or her family. This is simply the way the system is. I do not believe it will change. What are the rules and how do they apply to Vet. This issue has to be resovled for each Vets case. There is no other alternative.

    Adding Agent Orange medical issues is a postive, if complicated step in the right direction. Vets must prove, 40+ years after the fact their medical issue is service relelated. It becomes even more complicated when attempting to obtain benefits for children of Agent Orange Vets. Persistent pursuit, folks and getting help from competent people. Never give up and accept only “yes”.

    Lighten up SEEVIEW. Relax and thank you and your brother for your service.

    Dale R. Suiter

  4. Gordon Duff  September 15, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Your comments are not reality based. If you have been getting VA compensation at 100% for 60 years or more, you must be doing something right. However, your bullshit here, and I have to call it that, is uninformed and very anti-vet.
    I have been working with vets for decades…and am not so young. We have, not hundreds, but thousands of scandals.
    You got yours and screw everyone else.
    You must be a republican.
    Your advice is totally worthless. For any no attention to any of this blithering and get proper information.

  5. Sharon  September 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

    DB- most vets don’t have the brains to vote Democrat. They swallow the bullshit that the Republicans care about the vet and “we gotta fight that war!” Well, machismo and patriotism don’t help you when you’re in pain, DOES IT?

  6. Chaplain Mary Murphy  September 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    My sister just got her back compensation from when her WWII Radio Operator Husband, discharged l00 percent “Anxiety Reaction” died of a heart attack at age 47 in 1970.

    A Higher Power in answer to many prayers and the attorney did not charge her a dine. Unfortunately, he cannot do this again bu than a Higher Power for such a Korean Marine lst Lt. What a special place in Heaven he has.
    The War Widows

  7. T S Umbra  September 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    “These Chains of Pains”

  8. schud  September 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Yes, the time limit can be long at the Bureau of Veterans Appeals, especially with remands. Somebody is not doing their job representing him (Heim). He should check around for a well know county counselor who knows his/her job for assistance.

  9. SE8  September 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Even a VA pension is more than that. He can request a pension because of being disabled while he is waiting for disability results which are sort of baffling. As dir of a former county veterans office, I find the time limit sort of baffling also. I know of cases before the BVA that are delayed because of remands, but something is amiss here.

  10. David Sisk  September 13, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I live in the kansas city missouri area and use the VA clinin in Columbia Missouri. I have nothing but good things to say about the VA in this area. They have taken care of my medical needs and my claims so give them a break their are some of us vietnam veterns that are happy with the VA

    David Sisk
    Sedalia Missouri

  11. jack h.  September 13, 2010 at 7:26 am

    i was fortunate enough in my late fifties and very ill,to be compensated for it all.before that i was accussed of being a war criminal and denied.i spent over 16 yrs. to get my medical and military records from the v.a.,so i do believe the veteran that blames the repub.s for this and also if your a vet vote democratic.keep the rascals out.

  12. Dennis Bourret  September 13, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Guess what, guys and gals, the VA gets its marching orders from the U.S. Congress. For eight years that Congress was controled by the political party that likes to rob the poor to give to the rich. They were all take and not give, except to outfits like Haliburton and their multo-millionaire cronies in subsidies, tax cuts, and non-competitive bid contracts. The current administration is trying to change that, but the precedent was set, and the claims backlog built up. They haven’t quite got their systems in place, but are letting contracts to IBM and other companies to develop software to help speed up claims processing, and they are asking for it pronto.If you want to keep the rich boys party from destroying all that,just vote Democratic in the November elections.Give the Obama crew a chance to get their new system going. If you vote the other way, sooner or later we will kiss the V.A.,Social Security, and Medicare goodby. Frankly, those programs are paid for with our money, blood, and bodies, and I’m not giving them up without a fight. Anybody with me on this?

    exArmy Sergeant
    Viet Nam Agent Orange victim

  13. sgt. james c contarino sr  September 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    we all know what the va is doing is prolonging everyones disibilities so in the end we will have passed on and those of us who haven’t soon will.alls i say is the love we shared for each other over in the wars is one thing they can’t rob us of.their may come a day that the veterans affairs will feel their own terrible doings they have comitted on all the war veterans.

  14. david  September 12, 2010 at 8:47 am

    As a desert storm veteran who has been diagnosed with several gulf war illness who serve 15 years in the military i understand why so many veterans are sick of the games the VA plays with veteran even though i agree with Sgt ed on some of his points because i see it first hand how many veterans who try game the system especially with the post traumatic stress thing every soldier should be expected to handle combat other wise don’t join we gulf war veteran did what we was ask we are just upset by the fact we were not told what we could expect from taking drugs the government wasn’t sure that they were safe. and now to be told my condition is because of my family history really makes me upset. especial since i have met non combat veterans at the Houston VA receive benefits for PSTD that really makes me sick to my stomach.

  15. Hugo  September 12, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Another problem Houston has is, they give benefits to those that do not deserve them, have not earned them, or make fraudulent claims. I personally know of an individual that got liver desease from dirty needles, claimed it was from the Army, and now lives in high cotton. I have doubts as to the competence of these VA workers in Houston. Anyone with limited mental capacity would see that the individual I refer to is a phoney. So, the problem with Houston is not just numbers, but also competence!

  16. Bill Smits  September 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    What this story and many veterans stories are about is not about money. It is about respect! However the end of the discussion it seems money is what is discussed.

    Since at least the US civil war veterans have been dissed by The United States government. Respect deserved for these war heroes none given! This story is about respect or should I say no respect given to veterans by a government agency.

    After World War 1 tens of thousands of veterans gasped for air and died because of being gassed on European battle fields. Later in the early 30’s they wanted money promised them by a patronizing government and none given they protested. What did the government do? They sent soldiers commanded by became WW 2 heros like pistol packing Patton, Eisenhower, and old dug out Doug into their camps killing many of them, their wives and children.

    What happened during and after the Vietnam war was the same. Government hired them to killed and be killed, some were drafted, and after they got home they the government in union with the US corporate media attacked their character, calling them whiners and malingerers.

    No this story is about lack of respect for those who fought for freedom. Not about money.

  17. Sgt Ed  September 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

    When I read stories like those above I tend to wonder “whats the rest of the story”? The story doesnt really state weither Mr Davis’ claim is on appeal or where it is….! The family lives on $845 diability check…is that SSDI,or VA check (the amount is odd for VA disability). There are three adults living there and only $845 income….Hmmm! Do the men in this article have all the elements for the claim…meaning a nexus,or inservice records for the injury? One thing to also keep in mind is that Texas also has one of the largest veteran population tn the country. There by one reason for the slow claim process Regarding Mr Slack…who is 68 and has hearing loss, well many,many folks at 68 have a hearing loss…it goes with age! …and I’ll bet theres even more to this story,and NO I dont work for the goverment!!!!

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