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Waiting for VA disability benefits: An Illinois story

Reports about the significant backlog in VA disability benefit approvals can seem dry; is the backlog six months, one year or many years? It depends on how the tale is told and who is telling it. However, when there is a real veteran in the middle of the story, the backlog is no longer academic. Living people - and not just veterans -- are significantly affected by the delays that plague the VA disability benefit system.

Duane Kozlowski, an Illinois U.S. Army veteran, and his wife, Rebecca Tews, fought for seven years for disability benefits. Duane is unable to hold a job because of service-related brain damage and post-traumatic stress. The result of Rebecca's efforts to obtain disability benefits for Duane is sobering:

  • A credit rating in ruins, as Rebecca stopped paying her student loans and spent thousands on Duane's medical care
  • Strained relationship with their extended families after borrowing thousands of dollars
  • Eviction from their home
  • Repossession of their cars
  • Loss of Tews' teaching job - twice - as she fought for her husband's benefits

Sadly, this story is not unusual. The VA reports that at least 65 percent of claims take longer than their target of 125 days. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, benefit applications are flooding into the Department of Veterans Affairs, a trend that is expected to continue, according to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. This will make is even harder for the VA to catch up with the backlog.

Not only are there more disability claims, but those claims are more complex. The average disability claim involves 8.5 disabling conditions, more than twice the number of previous wars, according to the VA secretary. And the numbers are expected to grow; one million troops will be leaving the military in the next five years.

Veterans whose disability benefit applications have been denied or that are buried in the backlog may benefit from having an advocate who can guide them through the system. At The Rep for VetsTM, a national veterans' advocacy company, we help those who served obtain the disability benefits to which they are entitled.

Source: FortWayne.com, "Benefits backlog dire for veterans," by William Selway, May 25, 2012.

 

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