Want Your Veterans Disability Benefits? Leave the State

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Disabled veterans waiting months for benefits is not a new story in California. Congressman Henry Waxman commissioned a report in 2004 that detailed six-month waits for Southern California vets. At that time, one in every 10 of the 2.3 million veterans in the state was receiving disability assistance.

Veterans are still stuck in interminable waits for benefits, but now they have an alternative: move to St. Paul, Minnesota, or Lincoln, Nebraska, where the wait times are about one-third as long as California’s. Three of the 58 regional U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offices are in California and their wait times are among the nation’s highest.

The average veteran applying for benefits at the Los Angeles office waits 363 days to hear from the government, a 39% increase over the prior 15 months. As of this week, 22,547 injured or ill veterans are waiting to hear about the status of claims. That represents a 26.5% increase since early 2011. Almost every veteran, 96.3%, waits at least 125 days.

Oakland has 30,613 vets waiting for a ruling an average of 346 days and 29,520 San Diego veterans hang in limbo for an average of 291 days. Almost all the Oakland vets, 93.9%, wait at least 125 days and 65.8% of San Diego vets waits that long.   

It gets much worse if you appeal a ruling. In the Los Angeles regional office, an appeal takes an average of 2,047 days. It takes 1,423 days in San Diego and 1,397 in Oakland.

The 824,273 veterans nationally average 257 days to get a ruling on their benefits. Two-thirds wait at least 125 days and the average wait time for appeals is 1,299 days. The growth in disability claims over the past 15 months is 7.3%.

While all three regional California offices have experience increases in claims since 2011, by contrast, claims have actually declined 14.7% in St. Paul and 20.4% in Lincoln. Both regions have much smaller populations of veterans—11,499 in Minnesota and 4,946 in Nebraska. 

As bad as it is in California, the nation’s leader in lag time is headquartered elsewhere. Waco, Texas, and its 50,914 veterans with claims wait an average of 403 days to hear a response. Nearly 77% of those wait at least 125 days and veterans who appeal wait, on average, 1,211 days.

The VA is implementing a new computer system to help reduce the backlog it has pledged to clear by 2015, but California offices haven’t been hooked up yet. With no end in sight for the Afghanistan War, where 84,000 troops engage the enemy daily, 2015 may be an elusive goal.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

For Disabled Veterans Awaiting Benefits Decisions, Location Matters (by Aaron Glantz and Shane Shifflett, The Bay Citizen)

Map: Disabled Vets Stuck in Backlog Limbo (by Aaron Glantz and Shane Shifflett, The Bay Citizen)

Disabled Veterans in Southern California Must Wait Months for VA Assistance (Prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman)

Afghanistan Index (Brookings Institution) (pdf)

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