Thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health benefits are a hot topic of conversation for lawmakers at both the national and state levels. That’s likely to continue, but we’d like to encourage legislators to take a break from arguing about “Obama Care” to focus some of their attention on veterans’ benefits.
Denton County Veterans Service office officials said this week that the process of getting health and financial benefits for veterans is taking longer than it ever has before.
“When I started this job four years ago, I could file a claim and expect results in three to six months,” Paul Bastaich, a Denton County Veterans Service officer told us. “About a year later, that average went to six to 12 months.”
In May, Bastaich said, he was told that claims might take as long as 520 days to be processed.
More than 45 percent of veterans are filing disability claims, which is an all-time record, he told us, and part of the reason is that in 2009 the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released three new presumptive diseases to Agent Orange exposure: Parkinson’s, leukemia and heart disease. These three diseases have been given priority, Bastaich said, which has resulted in an additional 400,000 claims nationwide and about 75 percent of VA staff across the country being taken off normal claims and assigned to those backlogs.
We don’t wish to complain about that strategy because we agree that it’s in the best interest of older veterans, many suffering from a terminal disease, that such claims take priority.
But we do believe that government leaders should address the situation and find a way to speed up the process for processing claims for all veterans. These men and women have sacrificed a lot in service to their nation, and the least we can do in return is get rid of the backlog of claims and make sure their needs are served.
In the meantime, we join the Denton County Veterans Service office officials in urging veterans to file their claims as soon as possible. In spite of the backlog, officials said, veterans should seek out the benefits owed to them for their military service. Some veterans may not know what benefits they are entitled to, and a visit to the Denton County Veterans Service office can help.
There are about 48,000 veterans in Denton County, yet only 18,957 of those vets have been in the office, Bastaich told us.
He said new processes such as electronic filing and electronic copying of health records will eventually speed up processing of claims, but it will take time before such methods have any real impact on the backlog.
“The VA knows the system is broken right now due to the backlog — they are trying to make the process simpler, more efficient and more time-effective,” Bastaich said. “But it is not going to fix anything immediately.”
We’d like to see that situation change, and we think it can if government leaders will get their priorities in order.