KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Delays And Denials Of Disability Claims At VA Frustrate Veterans

CBS News' 60 Minutes reports on delays and wrongful denials of disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs. "There is a sacred tradition in the military: leave no one behind on the battlefield. But many veterans are beginning to believe their country has left them behind at home, once they're out of uniform and in need of help."

"Last year, $30 billion ... - one third of the VA's total budget - was paid in disability compensation to nearly three million veterans. To receive a disability benefit, a veteran has to be honorably discharged" and have a service-related disability. The claim form is 23 pages long, which Michael Walcoff, the VA's deputy undersecretary for benefits, says probably "goes beyond just what is required. And one of the things that we're looking at is to try to simplify the process."

The claims process "has been strained by a flood of disability claims - everything from combat wounds to injuries off the battlefield, illnesses and psychological disorders. Since 2003, 400,000 claims have come from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands more from aging veterans of earlier conflicts. Add to that the recession, which is forcing more veterans to turn to the VA for help." Paul Sullivan, who spent six years analyzing disability claim trends at the VA and is now executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, says the department faces "a backlog of one million claims" and the system "is absolutely overwhelmed" (1/3).

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