If you’re a U.S. military veteran living in Waco, Texas – not that far away from the Army’s Fort Hood – you’re out of luck. Veterans living there wait an average of 403 days – that’s more than 13 months — for the Department of Veterans Affairs to rule on their disability claims for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Veterans living in Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and New York face similarly daunting waits.
So move to South Dakota, where wait times are typically half as long.
Aaron Glantz of the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting spent four months sifting through VA data to create an interactive map that shows average wait times for veterans at the VA’s 58 regional offices across the nation. Bottom line: vets who live in rural, sparsely-populated states tend to have their claims handled much more quickly than their urban comrades.
“As a reporter who has spent the last decade covering the war in Iraq and the experiences of American veterans, I can’t tell you how many veterans I’ve met who committed suicide or became homeless while they waited on a disability claim,” Glantz tells Battleland. The map and accompanying story tap into “an ocean of frustration from veterans across the country who are facing interminable delays, who have emailed or tweeted us the amount of time they’ve been waiting.”
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the American Legion convention in Indianapolis Tuesday that no one at the VA “is standing at parade rest” when it comes to handling veterans’ claims. The VA has handled 1 million claims in each of the past two years, and expects to do so again this year. The flood of claims and their resulting paperwork has threatened to collapse at least one VA building.
“This is a dynamic process,” the retired Army general said. “When you push 2.9 million claims out the door and 3.5 million come in…we have to find ways to dominate those numbers.” The VA’s goal, with an increased reliance on computers, is to process all disability claims within 125 days at 98% accuracy by 2015.
But until that happens, CIR’s map will let vets and their families – not to mention their advocates, in Congress and elsewhere – check out how the local VA office is doing compared to the rest of the nation. CIR says it will update the map weekly, as the VA generates fresh data.