Wednesday, January 30, 2013

VA won't say how many veterans die waiting for disability benefits

VA won't say how many veterans die waiting for disability benefits
By Yvonne Wenger
The Baltimore Sun
January 29, 2013

How many veterans die annually while they wait for the embattled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to approve their claim for disability benefits? The answer: The VA won’t say.

In half a dozen calls and emails, The Baltimore Sun asked the VA over a period of about two weeks for information about its backlog to process disability claims for American veterans — and the consequences of the delays on servicemen and servicewomen.

The Sun’s report showed the Baltimore office, which handles claims for all of Maryland’s 450,000 veterans, is the worst performing in the country. The local office was the slowest and had the highest error rate in the U.S., according to latest information available.

The VA has made strides in improving transparency and access to information with an interactive online database of processing times and error rates called ASPIRE. The agency also created an online portal called eBenefits for veterans to learn the latest status on their claims, although many find it confusing and the information it provides not timely.

The ASPIRE Dashboard was integral in producing the Sun investigation. But it couldn’t answer all the questions, most notably, the number of veterans who die before the agency approves or denies their claim.

Nearly 19,500 veterans died from October 2011 to September 2012, the federal fiscal year, while they waited for benefits, according to an article published in San Francisco’s Bay Citizen. That figure is based on the $437 million in retroactive benefits paid to the survivors of the deceased veterans, according to the report. The number of veterans who died waiting during that period is likely higher.
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