Veterans Voice Frustration Over Benefits Backlog to VA Secretary Shinseki

BY Hari Sreenivasan  March 29, 2013 at 10:30 AM EDT

Watch PBS NewsHour’s extended interview with three Iraq and Afghanistan Army veterans who see the claims backlog as a systemic problem. Sgt. Rachel McNeill and Staff Sgt. Zach McIlwain are veterans of the Iraq War. Capt. Aaron Thorson served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly 250,000 veterans wait more than a year for their medical claims to wind through the Veterans Administration before receiving their earned benefits, according to an investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The report, based on the VA’s own internal numbers, also shows that almost 1 million veterans are currently waiting for their benefit claims to be processed and that the wait time has grown 2,000 percent in the past four years.

According to the CIR’s recently updated numbers, the average time for the resolution of a disability claims is 279 days. First time claims can take even longer, averaging 318 days, leaving veterans to pay for expenses on their own in the meantime.

The VA says it has a plan and that things will improve. The agency says it aims to have all claims processed within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015.

Hari Sreenivasan talks with veterans and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki about the delays and backlog.

The video above is NewsHour’s full broadcast report on the backlog that aired Friday. Also available is an extended interview with VA Secretary Shinseki. He responds to Rachel McNeill and Aaron Thorson, veterans affected by the backlog.

We want to hear from you. Consider this an open thread for discussion. Tell us your story: How have you been affected by the backlog?

Joshua Barajas and Charles Anderson shot these videos. Barajas edited them. You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter @Hari.