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Helping vets
Why not streamline veterans benefits?

Date published: 11/19/2012

VETERANS DAY 2012 is past, but concern for "those who have borne the battle" should not be relegated to a single day. In that regard, the Department of Veterans Affairs has some explaining to do.

The VA claims backlog is infamous. Nearly 900,000 pending disability-benefit claims, 65 percent of which have been in limbo for more than 125 days, are evidence that the agency is doing a poor job of serving former military members and their dependents.

Behind each of those claims is a person--someone who is suffering from a traumatic injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other service-related condition; someone whose life may be on hold while the VA snow pile refuses to melt. Not only may that person be waiting for monetary compensation, he or she is also standing in line for that all-important "service-connected disability" designation, which brings with it benefits such as treatment in a VA hospital and preference in federal hiring. How long is too long for them to wait?

To be fair, the VA is facing an increasing number of claims as the war in Afghanistan winds down, and those claims are often complex. The average post-World War II disability-compensation claim included three conditions; today, that's more likely to be 5.5. And many disorders are harder to pin down: traumatic brain injury, for example, or PTSD as opposed to knee injuries or shrapnel wounds. But the failure of the VA to upgrade its computers and a poor rate of accuracy on initial claims (both contributors to the backlog) are fixable problems.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vows that help is on the way, citing increased hiring and more training as remediations. But his goal--to clear the backlog by 2015 and establish an average wait time of 125 days for first-time claims, plus a 98 percent accuracy rate, seems like a dieter's dream, more wishful thinking than reality.

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