Veterans facing benefit backlog due to cuts

By: NBC News Email
By: NBC News Email

Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were in Washington Thursday, demanding an end to the enormous back log of veteran disability claims and other benefits.

A recent report found wounded soldiers are often forced to wait more than a year for benefits.

The report released by the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered a backlog of about 900,000 claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Their records indicate veterans wait on average more than 315 days for benefits, not the 273 days the Veterans Administration reports.

In several cities, the backlog is even worse, forcing many veterans to pay expenses out of pocket while they wait.

"We need the president to step up and solve this problem once and for all," said Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz called the situation appalling.

"No citizen wants these warriors to come back and fight for what they have rightfully earned," he said.

Around the Capitol veterans asked other lawmakers for support.

Representative Jeff Miller demanded the Department of Veteran Affairs do better.

"They need to look at changing the culture in the system," he argued.

The VA estimates the backlog is less severe closer to 600,000 claims, but officials admit it's unacceptable.

"This has been a problem that has been decades in the making," says Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers. "That is why we are taking it head-on to solve this problem for good."

The VA says it's making changes, including going paperless, and hopefully will be able to cut the wait to about 125 days by 2015.

The VA adds it's received an unprecedented number of claims in recent year, completing more than one million claims per year since 2010.

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