March 24th, 2013
09:12 AM ET
10 years ago

Veterans Affairs boss: 'No veteran should have to wait for claims'

(CNN) – The mountain of benefits claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs is a result of an outdated paper process and new levels of complexity in returning troops' cases, the agency's boss said in an interview Sunday.

"No veteran should have to wait for claims. If there's anybody impatient here, I am that individual, and we're pushing hard," Gen. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"Veterans in the last four years have joined us in unprecedented numbers," Shinseki told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, noting that while the backlog of cases had spiked in his tenure at the VA, millions of cases were still being processed.

"We've put three million claims out the door," he said. "If you have an inventory of about 875,000, a million claims decisions going out a year, you know we're taking care of business. There are going to be a few that are complex enough to run longer than we would like."

The latest report from the VA, issued March 16, indicated a total of 895,838 benefits claims were pending. Almost 630,000 of those have been pending for more than 125 days.

The number of unprocessed requests for benefits and pensions has caused outrage among veterans and lawmakers, who question why it's taking so long to provide servicemen and women the compensation they were promised.

Money, Shinseki said, isn't the problem - while most government agencies in Washington are finding new ways to cut costs amid budget crunches, the VA has seen its budget increase by 40% since 2009.

The winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to the pile of unprocessed requests for benefits, Shinseki explained, along with veterans who served multiple tours filing more than one claim.

An antiquated system still reliant on paper forms is also to blame, Shinseki said.

"We're a paper process - have been for decades. This has been decades building, and we need to go digital, and we're in the process of doing that," he said.

The stack of pending claims, he vowed, would be cleared: "We have put in place a robust plan to end the backlog in 2015. That's is our commitment."

Filed under: Veterans Affairs
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Pete

    This is the white elephant in the room vets care..My friend who served in Vietnam as a gunner on a Huey helicopter has been sickly for years a result of flying in formation behind tankers dropping Agent Orange now know as a major cause of cancer and other medical problems..It's taken him also over 30 years to get the disability boards in vets affairs to recognise his condition from the chemicals and also hearing loss being in battle for those years behind a machine gun and being in the copter..He was deemed fully disabled in 2009 well into his late 60s , over 40 years after serving for his country in a useless war much like Iraq,Afghanistan.This injustice has to stop and I hope under newer leadership,guidelines these men that have sacrificed so much for this country will get their due rewards in health care ,benefits before some have passed,again its got to stop or quit lying to these enlistees when they show up to serve..Tell the military that honesty is the best policy and if you can't be honest to these and every enlistee than say nothing at all just like when you had the draft,remember !!

    March 24, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  2. Cpo7ss

    I just watched the interview with our VA Chief and was slapped in the face that he didn't address specifically what will be done to help vets, instead he kept it politics as usual with good old tap dancing.
    I work in one of the National Call Centers for Veterans and and being a retired vet myself, it's disgusting to talk to some of the individuals that work/got hired in their positions sometimes from the SEC VA on down. I believe strongly in the EEO, but don't hire a person just to "check off a box" to say "yes we hired a (ethnic group)". Hire the QUALIFIED person! We have people who can't even turn on a computer. Every department within the VA just points their fingers at each other saying "we don't support that" and not getting the job done. This in NO way helps the VETS!
    It was mentioned the difference between DOD and VA for tracking,,,within the VA itself the same tracking systems are not even being used. Which means an issue submitted at one Service Desk can not be read by another Service Desk. Again, more finger pointing, delaying the process or not getting the job done.
    To many high level individuals have no clue of their positions or what they are there for. There is to much of attitude of "I'll get my pay check anyway, and not I'm doing (Blank) for the Vets.


    March 24, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  3. Thomas

    Thank you GW Bush .

    The Iraqi war paid for itself in so many ways !

    March 24, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  4. Betsy

    Just get it done. An outdated paper process should not be an excuse. I cannot even imagine that in 2013 the Va is not digitalized. It really makes my head swim to think of all the stupidity in this country. Not one vet should be waiting for care. Not one !

    March 24, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    The volume of claims, as the wars wind down, is the largest single issue.

    March 24, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  6. sharon

    my husband has been waiting for 3 years...he has been on ssi disability for 1 year. he is retired from the military. i work to make ends meet. he is only 59, in a walker and takes 17 different meds. the company i work for is downsizing as of friday, i do not know if i will have a job..A man at my job came back to work (a navy seal in special ops) because he is waiting for VA benefits (the war took a toll on him, he is very ill).

    March 24, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  7. Jeff O'Dette

    Thanks George.

    March 24, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  8. chuhi

    I haven't watched the interview but I will tell you upfront that I have my doubts about the VA reaching this goal. All this talk about transformation, new computer system, VBMS.........I know because I work with the VA processing those claims. They still don't get it. There has to be changes in law and VA policy that allows us to process the claims faster. The transformation does not allow a simplified process...all this does is re-organize the VA claims examiners into teams and changes how the workflow is assigned. Has nothing to do with the actual processing of claims. We are re-organizing for the second time similar to how we used to do it. We are again, re-arranging the furniture on the deck of a sinking ship.

    March 24, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. Charles

    I'am a Veitnam Veteran I have claim in to VA Iwent to VA hospital to get in to the system I gave them my DD214 they looked at it told me I was not or there wasn't anything on the DD214 that says I was in Veitnam . Now I'am filling out paper work to get this corrected. Why should I have to do this? I thought these people in hospital whould take care of that.

    March 24, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. Edward Schultz

    Served 26 months in Vietnam. Diagnosed with prostate cancer 8/11. Filed claim with VA 9/11. Process went very smoothly & surprisingly quickly. Rated 100% for 6months & then was proposed to reduce to 60% after first VA physical. Filed appeal 6/12 & had phone interview with district VA 11/12. Have heard nothing substantial from them thus far. In the dark now & am wondering how many years the appeal process is going to take.

    March 24, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  11. Ralph A

    I bet retiring politicians don't have to wait for their benefits. Our organization works with veterans with problems everyday. Some vets are waiting 18 months to get their benefits. The Bush administration never considered the life long repercussions of going into 2 useless wars. Some of these young men and women will have to be taken care of for the next 50 years. Send the bill to Bush, Cheney and Rummy, they said the cost of the wars would be about 60-80 Billion, What a joke

    March 24, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  12. Anonymous at VA

    The Secretary's "robust" plan to resolve this issues by 2015 is not achievable - just any folks at the working level in the Veterans Benefits Administration. This plan is little more than to buy time, to allow the Secretary to achieve his personal goal of leaving office as VA's longest serving Secretary, and if he hangs on long enough it is a record like to stand the test of time. Ask any career senior executive at VA, the Secretary is in desire need of a reality check, and needs to abandon his goal and move on, taking his Chief of Staff, John Gingrich, with him. Using every performance metric and performance measurement at VA, the department has clearly declined under Secretar Shinsek's (really Gingrich's) leadership. By every indicator, the department is performing worse than when Secretar Shinseki took over. Under his (Gingrich's) leadership transparency and accountability for VA operations is a thing of the past. The Secretary, under his barely distinguishable leadership has proven once again, most four star generals do not necessarily make good civilian leaders like Colin Powell did. Secretary Shiinseki is so protected by Gingrich he hasn't a serious clue of what is happening around him. The time has come for him to do right by Veterans and the department he leads, by giving upmhisngoal of serving out the President's second term and moving on, taking John Gingrich with him. Sadly, they have run VA into the ground and it is time for both of these hangers-on to go,

    March 24, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  13. lottie

    if congress had to wait that long it would be taken care of immediately. Instead of another vacation congress should try addressing this if they care so much.

    March 24, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  14. Name Gerrie strobel

    I am a female Viet Nam era vet who finally received my 100% after 17 years!!!!! I received 2 years back pay. Where is the rest of my money.

    March 24, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  15. croon

    Where are the gun control advocates. Take all veterans guns when they come home. If there is a backlog for Mental Health Services, why are these gun control nuts not commenting on this. The mentally ill are being targeted, and scape goated. Why don't they go after gangbangers, drunks, and others who are just plain criminals. If you don't have a record then you should not be treated like a criminal!

    March 24, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  16. Anonymous is Atlanta

    I would like to thank you for such a great interview with Gen. Shinseki this morning. As the son and nephew of recently deceased Vietnam era veterans, I know personally just how ridiculous the response time to any claims with the VA are. Thank you for asking the tough questions that should have been addressed years ago, especially considering how many Iraq/Afghanistan veterans are coming home with injuries, complicated with the hangover of health issues that are manifesting themselves in Vietnam era vets.

    March 24, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. croon

    What about gun control. Are going to take the guns away from veterans if they seek Mental Health Services? If there is a backlog for services than what should the gun policy be? Seems that there's a problem.

    March 24, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  18. dbltrouble

    The VA is 3 separate mostly non communicating divisions. The worst is that tasked with the infrastructure upon which the Benefits (the original) and the Medical (the 2nd) division rely upon. This is one of the reasons the Benefits division still relies upon paper.

    The other is that there is a clear disconnect between those at the bottom, trying to get things done and the directives from Washington national office. The issue comes from the middle management (actually upper middle management) who place multiple obstacles.

    As much as I love our veterans, and honor their service, they are taught to obey orders and given disincentives to question the status quo. This is the problem within the VA. There are processes in place. But it is more closely kept secret than the plan to kill Osama Bin Laden.

    March 24, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  19. dbltrouble

    Oh. forgot. the other division of the VA is the Information Technology group which is, at best, working in the 20th century – with their hardware, let alone their software.

    March 24, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  20. nuc vet

    In my experience initial appointments for PTSD take 90 to 120 days not the same day as the General stated. The General is just repeating the same political line as usual while nothing happens to improve the system. I have waited years, like many vets have, to move from one step to the next with no results. My records have been lost between the Army and the VA more times than I can count. General, re-retire and get out of the way so someone with the ability and desire to take charge can.

    March 24, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    This is not a new problem. The VA has always been a sloth when it comes to disability claims, even in peace times when the number of claims were substantially lower. I was diagnosed with cancer in the early 80s while in the Navy. Since then I have recurring cancer and multiple health issues related to radiation and chemotherapy treatment. I have filed for increased benefits twice in the past 30 years, and both times my claim took nearly two years to be processed.

    I do commend the VA for improved medical care. In the 80s and 90s, one could expect to wait up to 12 hours in the emergency room waiting area.

    March 24, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |