Veterans Affairs is failing our veterans

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Of more than 830,000 VA benefits claims pending nationally, more than 540,000 are considered backlogged. Indeed, it can take more than a year, even two years, for a veteran get even a decision on a benefit application.

Don’t blame the sequester, those forced spending cuts caused when Congress couldn’t (wouldn’t) reach a deal. The VA is exempted.

And, sadly, these backlogs of claims are nothing new, which makes the situation all the more shameful.

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When we asked these men and women to serve, we needed them immediately. Many were injured or suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The help they need (and was promised) after they’ve served their nation often is not there.

That is inexcusable.

Suicides in the military have been declared “epidemic.” In 2012, more active-duty soldiers committed suicide (349) than died in combat in Afghanistan (295). Those statistics come from an infographic at The Huffington Post.

But consider this: The same infographic reports that a veteran commits suicide every 1 hour and 5 minutes, which works out to about 22 veteran suicides each day.

Those statistics should be setting off alarms.

The oversight committees in Congress need to keep pressure on the VA to improve its performance and, to its credit, the VA has set goals to deal with the backlog.

But the long delays are just wrong. In his Daily Caller story “Another outrage against veterans,” lawyer David Gibberman says the VA even creates obstacles that veterans have to overcome to even file a claim for benefits.

Gibberman details those hurdles, from misinformation on the VA’s website to how individuals who must deal with the Veterans Benefits Administration characterize the agency’s efforts: “delay, deny and hope that I die.”

Too often, that’s exactly what happens.

We all know veterans, and we should thank them for their service. And the VA should treat them better.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a community engagement specialist for and The Birmingham News. Reach him at