Randy’s mother died while waiting for benefits. Adam asked in vain two years ago for help with his brain injury.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) and Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki (R) testify on Capitol Hill on July 25, 2012 regarding servicemen returning to civilian life.

Bringing up the question of claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Oakland office, and you invite a seemingly endless series of such heartbreaking stories.

Scott Shafer got that response on July 31 when he hosted a KQED Forum about the sluggish bureaucracy there. His guest, Aaron Glantz of The Bay Citizen, documented an average wait time of a year before claims are processed. The center has a backlog of 32,000 claims and 40% error rate, he found.

The department knows about the problem, and is promising to do better. Willie Clark, Veterans Affairs western region director for the VA said the employees there were recently trained to improve their speed. “We’re trying to increase efficiency,” he said. But he pointed out that the volume of claims is huge – about a million a year for the whole system.

It might help if the department caught up with modern times. Only 4 out of 58 offices are computerized, according to Glantz.

Whatever the reason, veterans report agonizing delays. Jim called Shafer from Sebastapol to say he was suffering terrible post traumatic stress disorder from two tours of duty as a helicopter gunner doing medical evacuations in Vietnam.

“The longest I’ve worked anyplace since then is three-and-a-half years,” he said. “I’ve been homeless twice. I tried to commit suicide three times. I’m just going through my third divorce.”

Jim said he had filed a claim with the VA in 2002 and been rejected. He reapplied in January of 2011 and still hasn’t heard back. “I can’t talk to anyone,” he said. “No one seems to know anything about it.”

Until the VA rules that a veteran’s disability is “service-connected” – suffered in the line of duty – it won’t pay for the care the veteran needs. So, Jim says, if he goes to group therapy, he has to pay $1,200 out of pocket every month.

His was one of several such stories Shafer fielded. John called from San Jose to say that he had filed a claim 450 days ago for peripheral neuropathy and hearing loss he attributes to his exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide sprayed widely on Vietnamese jungles. While he waits for a rule, “I just continue to progressively lose feeling in my extremities,” he said.

Glantz doesn’t expect any improvement soon.

But one vet who called found a way of getting through the bureaucracy – he called his representative in Congress and heard back from the VA the next day.

  • Gordon Holmes

    One Year! I have been waiting over 5 years. The VA is broken and they are not fixing anything. They put a bandaide on one part and another breaks. They loose files for a year at a time, and refuse to make decisions that can be made in seconds not Months. They need to fire everyone from the top down and start over. I was injured June 26, 2007 and they are still working on my claim and dragging out the time. The same goes for the National Guard and Army. They dump the soldiers on the street without medical care and without the paperwork they were required to fill out. I have had to hire an attorney for the military portion of my claim and will likely have to hire an attorney for the VA claim. Yet the individuals responsible for intentional violaltions of regulations, policies and procedures get promoted. Where is Congress, the Joint Chiefs and the White House. They don’t care, they are saving money hoping the injured soldiers will give up! I was able to get Social Security in a very short time. I am not going away until the Army, National Guard and VA are brought to justice for their crimes and loose their jobs and benefits.

  • http://vato21stcentury.blogspot.com/ Jim S.

    The new ‘magnetic ribbons’, the ‘parades’ and ‘welcome home celebrations’, with no demand for sacrifice get same results, but ‘parades’ only last a few hours on one day! Think ‘Desert Storm’ and ‘Gulf War Syndrome’, Ignored till the last couple of years, finally, after the ‘Parades’! Have the ‘Welcome Home Parades’ but at each the one word that should be spoke and on the minds of All, ‘Sacrifice’, Demand It, You Owe It!

    No Revenues {nor private capital economic investments, free market capitalism} = No Sacrifice = No Support = DeJa-Vu all over again!. Now a decade and counting, told to go shopping, added to the previous decades of under funding the VA, while the peoples reps Still try and lay blame on the Agency, after rubber stamping wars and costs of and those represented cheer on these wars!

    While the wealthy and other investors garner their booty, still, from both and many have the chutz·pa to call themselves more patriotic{?} then others wrapped in those false flags, using false slogans and various cheap symbols of and then seek one day events or parades to wave all that patriotism, call it “Supporting the Troops”, then go home and either ignore or forget about those that actually sacrificed for the country!

    USN ’67-’71 All Shore GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor