“Delay, Deny, Wait Till I Die”: Growing Number of Vets Die Awaiting VA Benefits

One of the few journalistic outlets keeping track of the long record of incompetence and dysfunction at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR has done great work examining how the backlog of benefits claims at the VA is affecting veterans and their families.

Their latest report is particularly shocking, as it details how the long backlog of claims waiting to be processed means that more veterans are dying before they receive their benefits. Via the Daily Beast:

The V.A.’s inability to pay benefits to veterans before they die is increasingly common, according to data obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The data reveals, for the first time, that long wait times are contributing to tens of thousands of veterans being approved for disability benefits and pensions only after it is too late for the money to help them.

In the fiscal year that ended in September, the agency paid $437 million in retroactive benefits to the survivors of nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting. The figures represent a dramatic increase from three years earlier, when the widows, parents and children of fewer than 6,400 veterans were paid $7.9 million on claims filed before their loved one’s death.

These veterans range from World War II veterans who die of natural causes without their pensions to Iraq War veterans who commit suicide after their disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder are denied.

The ranks of survivors waiting for these benefits also have surged, from fewer than 3,000 in December 2009 to nearly 13,000 this month.

In last year’s presidential campaign, veterans’ issues were almost completely absent from the debate—an unfortunate reality, given the great need as personnel return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But given this latest “national embarrassment” for the VA, as one congressman says in the Daily Beast story, it’s time for VA reform to make its way to the top of the agenda in 2013.

In October, I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with my friend Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, in which we examined the VA backlog and suggested how the VA might improve service to veterans. It still makes for timely reading, especially in light of this latest report from CIR.

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and is the former executive director of Vets for Freedom.  Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.