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Continued Delays at the VA

A recent story published in the Bay Citizen, a local San Francisco, California paper, indicates that an increasing number of veterans are dying before receiving their benefits. Data obtained by the Bay Citizen indicates that last year the Department of Veterans Affairs “paid $437 million in retroactive benefits to the survivors of nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting.” This represents a dramatic increase from three years ago, when less than $8 million was paid to fewer than 6,400 survivors. The article reveals that long wait times are to blame for “tens of thousands of veterans being approved for disability benefits and pensions only after it is too late for the money to help them.”

VA Officials cite a change in laws as a significant contributor to the increase in the number of posthumous benefits. In 2008, VA simplified the process for survivors to request compensation. Instead of filing a new claim, survivors may now request to be substituted for the veteran in the pending claim. The individual claiming entitlement to benefits following the veterans death, must submit a written request for substitution within one year of the veteran’s passing. Individuals entitled to benefits under this law include, the spouse of the veteran, unmarried children under the age of 18 or those who have been determined to be helpless children, or dependent parents of the veteran. An individual who bore the veteran’s last medical or burial expenses may also be substituted but is only entitled to the amount actually paid for last medical or burial expenses. 38 C.F.R. § 3.1000.

VA officials also cite the addition of ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and two types of cancer to the list of diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange as “major catalyst for the rise in posthumous payments.”

The Bay Citizen’s analysis of 18 reports published by the VA’s inspector general uncovered other reasons for the delays. The reports revealed that “auditors found mistakes in more than 1 in 3 high-profile claims they reviewed.” In addition, according to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals 2011 report, the Board found errors in 73 percent of the cases it decided.

It is not just elderly World War II veterans who are passing away while awaiting a decision on their claims. The delays and erroneous denials prevent younger veterans from getting the treatment they need to survive. Whether long wait times are attributable to changes in laws or errors by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the effects of those wait times are unacceptable.

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