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May 18, 2013

VIEW FROM AWAY: We have obligation to speed up delivery of benefits to veterans

The Kansas City Star

Disabled veterans across America are facing shameful delays in accessing earned benefits.

President Barack Obama pledged more than four years ago that he would reduce the waiting period for disabled veterans to get their hard-earned benefits. Instead, average wait times have increased from five months to nine months, and the backlog of claims pending for a year or more has soared 2,000 percent.

That's unacceptable. Veterans need the benefits to pay bills and get the medical help they deserve for serving the nation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Secretary Eric Shinseki, looks particularly inefficient at this crucial time as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans request their benefits.

In the age of modern technology, the agency is a paper-plagued dinosaur. Offices are stacked full of files stuffed with so much paper that officials sometimes can't find documents needed to process a claim. Too often the solution is to ask veterans to submit more paperwork, ensuring more delays.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have held hearings, heard lofty promises from the VA that things will get better and, well, that's it.

The VA claims -- without providing compelling proof -- that its new $500 million computer system rolling out across the nation will speed up things. In reality, wait times for disabled veterans have gone up.

In Kansas City recently, VA general counsel Will A. Gunn said, "The backlog is absolutely unacceptable."

Yet Gunn then offered advice that helps illustrate why this problem has grown so large. He urged lawyers to help veterans properly fill out paperwork to expedite claims. Here's an alternative: The VA should simplify the paperwork to reduce the need for lawyers and months of bureaucratic back-and-forth to resolve disability requests.

Obama needs to publicly demand more from the VA and Secretary Shinseki, while Congress must be more aggressive in protecting the interests of the veterans in their districts.

The VA must dramatically improve its efficiency, hire more claims processors and meet its goal to eliminate the wait time for disability benefits by 2015.

For now, though, Americans continue to hear too many discouraging tales about veterans who can't get quick access to the financial help they deserve.

Editorial by The Kansas City Star





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