In October 2011, a wounded veteran could expect to wait an average of 223 days (about 7 months) to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Six months later, the average wait time was 246 days (about 8 months). By December 2012, the average wait time for wounded veterans to obtain VA disability benefits was 262 days — or nearly nine months — with some wounded servicemen waiting more than a year.
The delays are blamed on a “VA backlog” caused by record numbers of claims filed by wounded warriors returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with changes in coverage for retired vets with Agent Orange exposure and “Gulf War Illness.” During each of the VA’s last three fiscal years, the government agency has processed at least one million claims per year. Earlier this year, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed to reduce the wait to 125 days by 2015, yet the wait time keeps increasing. What’s happening?
Part of the problem is the VA’s transition to a digital system for processing disability claims. The system is being launched in 18 regional offices and should be installed in all 56 VA regional offices before January 1, 2014. The VA believes the new system will provide faster, better service for veterans.
While waiting for benefits to begin, wounded veterans can apply for SSDI through the Social Security Administration’s expedited process for wounded warriors. The wounded warrior program provides veterans injured in combat with faster processing, but to be approved the veteran must still meet the Social Security Administration’s criteria for approval.