Our veterans are now facing a new enemy at home--long wait times for their disability claims.
The waiting times started increasing in 2010 when U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq causing a dramatic uptick in first-time filers, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In New Jersey, 3,527 veterans have pending claims in the Newark headquarters, which is less than in recent years according to CIR, according to available data. However, New Jersey veterans are waiting an average of 256 days as their claims remain pending.
That wait time is not far from a recent peak of 258.9 days in 2012. According to the data, the Newark office received an average of 431 claims per month in 2012, down from over 1,000 claims in 2010.
The data found that in most regional VA offices, not only did waiting times increase, but they vary dramatically with location: about a year and five months in Baltimore, Maryland compared to four months in Fargo, North Dakota. The national average now stands at about eleven months, which is dramatically higher than in 2009 when it was four months.
The backlog has also partly been blamed on the VA still using paper to process their claims. In 2011, the Department started implementing a computerized system in several of its regional offices. However, despite spending $537 million on the new program and employing 3,300 claims processors, 97 percent of veterans’ claims are still on paper.
In New Jersey, the number of Newark office employees dealing with these claims has dropped since three years ago, from 96 to 78 employees.
In addition, even though Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki pledged back in March that the VA will end the enormous backlog by 2015, they quietly backed off that promise in an email statement on last week.
While Memorial Day, which is celebrated this Monday, is officially a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, in practice it's often a day to recognize living veterans locally.
The data above was obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and is updated weekly.