During the recent State of the Union speech, President Obama almost casually mentioned that “we” will keep working to clear the backlog of applications for veterans’ benefits and be sure they receive mental health care. After doing some research on the backlog and comparing that situation to something else the President said in his speech, I am quite angry.
The backlog of applications for veterans’ benefits reached a peak of about 600,000 pending applications in March of 2013. In April, 67 Senators sent a letter to President Obama, asking him to become personally involved in efforts to shorten the time required to process veterans’ applications for benefits. At that time, the average waiting time was 316-327 days.
As reported in November 2013:
“Fortunately, the VA has made significant progress reducing the backlog since Memorial Day. The VA’s “strategic plan” to end the backlog seems to be working so far. Currently, the number of backlogged claims is 382,000 – a 37% reduction since its peak in March. . . .
. . . As of writing there are still some very alarming figures to report:
– 245,000 claims have been processing for over a year.
– The average wait time for benefits filing their first claim is 318 days”
While the number of pending applications has gone down, the average waiting time remains the same. We should all be angry at such slow progress. Our veterans deserve better. But what made me really upset was comparing the veterans’ situation to the President’s executive order to raise the wages of government contractors.
Contractors have been doing work for the government at the current wage and they get their paychecks on time. The President wants to give them more money. On the other hand, our veterans have done their work, but cannot get the benefits they have earned in a timely manner.
In theory I am not against workers earning more money. Maybe government contractors need higher wages (but Congress should decide that). But there are older veterans who have died before they received their disability benefits. Younger vets with physical challenges from service in Iraq or Afghanistan cannot afford to buy a home modified for their physical needs.
Maybe Mr. Obama should use his presidential powers to demand that the Veterans Administration dedicate more resources to the benefits backlog. Maybe the government funds that will go to raising contractors’ wages should go instead to hire more VA staff dedicated exclusively to working on the backlog. It is shameful that the President is more worried about able-bodied workers than disabled veterans.
If the delay in processing veterans’ benefit applications bothers you too, contact your Congressional representatives and demand action.