I-Team finds Veterans denied benefits - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

I-Team finds Veterans denied benefits

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TOLEDO, Ohio - Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country.  The expectation is that when they get home, their needs will be met.

But the 13abc I-Team has found that's not always happening.  There's a huge backlog getting them the care they need.  The I-Team has been digging into this issue for several months.

 There are a few numbers people need to look for when it comes to the backlog: the claims and the appeals.  While the number of claims is going down, the number of appeals is growing.

The I-Team talked to some Defiance County veterans about their experiences with the VA.  From Korea to Operation Enduring Freedom, the service of these veterans spans over 6 decades. 

“We were just 19 year old kids just out of high school," said Vietnam veteran Ric Booher. 

“I enjoyed my time with the military," said Enduring Freedom veteran Erin Clady. 

"You never forget a day at all,” said Butch Sines, a Korean veteran. 

"17 years old I left home," said former Seabee Ed Smith.

Their service bonds them forever.  Their new bond is to get the care they need and deserve.  Sines suffers from ringing in his ears from artillery shells in Korea.

"Constant, constant, 24 hours a day.  In fact it gets so loud I think other people should hear it," said Sines.    

Same for Smith, after heavy construction with the Seabees. 

"A lot of times the only thing we had to go on was the foam ear plugs and they wouldn't last," said Smith.   

Booher suffers the effects of Agent Orange from Vietnam. 

“Many of the guys were just coated with that stuff," said Booher.    

 Clady injured her back after a fall.

“I landed flat on some steps and then slid down about three flights," said Clady.   

So they look to the VA for help.  But with the backlog on claims, this group questions if they'll ever get the help they need.

“I'm going to be dead before I ever get it," said Sines. 

The I-team reached out to the VA, to figure out what's happening with the claims processing.  Here are the numbers:  The backlog peaked at 611,000 in 2013.  Now that number is down to 344,000-thousand.  VA officials tell the I-team this is the lowest since 2011 when the VA reconsidered Agent Orange and the number spiked.

It's an improvement, but the I-Team has learned the new issues are the appeals.  If a veteran doesn't like the response from the VA they can appeal and that's where the new back log forms.

According to the VA, there are about 350,000 claims in various steps of the appeal process.  According to A letter from the Ohio congressional delegation, to the VA, the current processing time for appeal is 5- 10 years.

It's so discouraging for some of these veterans that have waited and waited and waited and they're getting older and their health is getting worse," said Smith.    

For veterans like Clady, just getting a competency exam is a struggle.  She travels from Defiance to Toledo and instead of an exam gets this: 

"Getting all the way up there: 'Oh we're sorry he's at the other office.  So we'll reschedule again," said Clady.    

There are also worries about the amount of people processing the claims.  At the Cleveland office, there are 292 people working on claims.  The veterans the I-Team met, say that’s not enough. 

“There are files and files stacked everywhere.  And they do not have enough people for the work that they have.  They need to have a much larger staff.  I would say at least three times the staff," said Clady. 

Then there’s the inconsistency.  After Booher's claim was stuck in the Fort Wayne Indiana office, it was sent to Kentucky.

"Well they did that and sent it to Kentucky and in two weeks it was passed," said Booher.     

Smith was denied his benefits for missing a meeting he says he was not told about.

“Yes sir I sure did.  And that hurt," said Smith.   

If you or anyone you know is working on a claim here are some of the tips we've learned that could help you:
  • If your claim is denied, try to file for a reconsideration not an appeal.  Especially if it's denied for something simple.
  • Don't fight alone.  Every Ohio county has a veteran's affairs office.  Let them help you.
VA officials responded to the I-Team about how they will be dealing with the backlog of appeals.  Here is their response:    

The [Appeals] Board is aggressively hiring to execute its budget, and has hired 100 new full-time employees to work appeals.  In addition, VA has proposed a number of initiatives to increase efficiencies in the appeals process.  These initiatives include:

·Leveraging Technology to Streamline Operations, including the use of Virtual Docket for electronic management of Board hearings; virtual transcripts instead of paper, and other initiatives

·Increasing Video Teleconference (VTC) Hearings leveraging additional technology to streamline operations (Virtual Docket and more)

·Board Decision Content –standardize the language of Board decisions, making them more understandable to Veterans

·Upgraded Technology – The Board will be implementing the Veterans Benefits Management System, an electronic processing system for claims and appeals.  This paperless system, already in place at local regional offices, is expected to yield efficiencies in the process of appeals at the Board that a cumbersome paper-based system cannot provide.

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