Obama Admits the Backlog in Veterans' Disability Claims is ‘Unacceptable’
President Obama says his administration has reduced by 20 percent the government's woeful backlog of veterans' disability claims – but he admits that is not enough.
Addressing a gathering of disabled veterans in Florida, he said: "We're turning the tide. We're not going to let up until we eliminate the backlog once and for all."
He acknowledged that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have overwhelmed the Department of Veterans Affairs with disability applications.
"It results in longer waits. That's been unacceptable to me," Mr. Obama said.
He admitted the 20 percent figure wasn’t enough, adding: "I'm going to be honest with you. It has not moved as fast as I wanted."
A report from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that since Mr. Obama took office in 2009, the number of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits has risen from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 in December 2012, CNN reports.
The VA says that 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. In some big metropolitan areas, such as New York, the wait can be up to two years.
Turning his attention to the shocking suicide rate, Mr. Obama said his administration increased spending for VA mental heath services by 7.2 percent, and the veterans agency has increased the capacity of its crisis line by 50 percent.
"We also need to keep improving mental health services because we have to end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops," Mr. Obama said.
The White House announced on Saturday a National Research Action Plan to reduce soldier suicides and treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Under the plan, the VA, Pentagon and other federal agencies will share data to advance research. The University of Texas and Virginia Commonwealth University will receive $100 million from the VA and Defense Departments to research PTSD and the links between traumatic brain injury and mental health issues.
Obama also rolled out another initiative at the weekend, with 250 higher education institutions to help war veterans complete their degrees.
He called the measure "8 Keys to Success" and said community colleges and universities would help veterans afford and complete degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses. The education would help the veterans land jobs in high-growth areas of the economy.
Obama said among his priorities is "making sure that our veterans have the opportunity to pursue the American dream."
Some of the issues raised in this article will be discussed at IDGA’s DoD/VA EHR Integration and Interoperability summit next month. For full details, go to www.ElectronicHealthRecordsSummit.com