Obama administration whittles away at veterans benefits backlog
Speaking to disabled veterans Saturday, President Obama said the backlog of those waiting for benefits is shrinking, and he announced a new plan to address PTSD, brain injuries, and suicide. Still, he said, 'We are not where we need to be.'
Before beginning a week’s vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama addressed a longstanding problem for thousands of military veterans returned from US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and seeking government help: lengthy waits for medical treatment, disability benefits, and other services due them.Skip to next paragraph
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In a speech at the Disabled American Veterans' convention in Orlando, Florida, Saturday, Mr. Obama said his administration is making progress on reducing a backlog of disability claims and said the number of requests for assistance has fallen by nearly one-fifth since peaking at more than 600,000 just a few months ago.
"Today I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we are making progress," he said. "So after years when the backlog kept growing, finally the backlog is shrinking."
The number of claims ballooned after Obama made it easier for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange to get benefits. Access to benefits also was eased for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Gulf War veterans afflicted with malaria, West Nile virus, or other infectious diseases.
CNN notes a recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting finding that since Obama took office in 2009, the number of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits jumped from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 last December. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the average wait time after a veteran files a claim is 273 days. But for veterans filing their first claim, including Iraq and Afghanistan vets, the wait is up to 327 days, nearly two months longer.
The backlog is shrinking due to some aggressive steps taken by the VA, including requiring claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to work overtime and moving from a manual to a computerized system to help speed the judgment of claims.
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