Jackie in the News
Veterans wait too long on disability claims
San Francisco Chronicle
Those who have served know the military rules: Be on time, do it now. Once they file disability claims with the Department of Veteran Affairs, however, veterans wait, and wait longer. This is an injustice to our veterans and ill serves our communities.
The VA's Oakland regional claims office has the dubious distinction of the slowest response to disability claims - on average 320 days, compared with 241 days for the VA's 57 regional offices overall. A VA inspector general report on Oakland found a 38 percent accuracy rate. The VA's stated goal is to clear claims in 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who saw the ceiling-high stacks of paper files at the Oakland office, said, "The backlog is staggering and unacceptable on any level. The VA Oakland office needs to take steps to make it more accountable to veterans." She and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, have organized a forum on Monday to help veterans.
VA disability claims are handled somewhat like workers' compensation. An individual may have several disabilities from multiple deployments - PTSD, ischemic heart disease, traumatic brain injury - each requiring a separate claim. A rating system determines payout.
Delay is not without consequences for the individual or the community. A disabled vet may slide into homelessness while awaiting a ruling. A veteran awaiting a determination on a PTSD disability claim may self-medicate, adding substance abuse and perhaps loss of a job to mental health problems.
The VA is working nationwide to move to an electronic records system by 2015 to handle the growing volume of claims - already the highest in its history. In Oakland, it has authorized more employees to handle claims. But why wasn't this increase in claims foreseen and acted on before?
After 10 years of war, the bill is coming due. We sent these young men and women off to battle. We owe them timely care.
Public forum on VA disability claim delays
Who: Reps. Barbara Lee and Jackie Speier and VA Oakland regional office director Douglas Bragg
What: A public forum to discuss veterans' individual disability claims
Where: War Memorial Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., Room 207, San Francisco
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Monday
For more information: Go to www.speier.house.gov.
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