Leah Barkoukis

America’s veterans are returning home only to fight another battle: collecting their service-related benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to VA documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, veterans filing their first claim must wait more than 315 days —and in major U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles they must wait twice as long. It wasn’t always this bad, however.

In 2009, the number of veterans waiting longer than a year for benefits was 11,000. That number reached 245,000 in December—a more than 2000 percent increase—and is expected to top one million this spring. So what’s the problem? 

Darin Selnick, retired Air Force captain and former special assistant to the secretary of veterans affairs, says there are two main reasons why the backlog skyrocketed. First, Sec. Eric Shinseki loosened all the rules in 2010 for what a veteran could apply for, which led to a flood of new claims. And secondly, the VA didn’t prepare for it. “One of the things you learn in the military is ‘prior planning prevents poor performance’. He knows that. They knew it was coming. They knew the backlog would start spiking—they didn’t hire staff, they didn’t put in the procedure, they didn’t prepare for it. They just decided to open the floodgates without being able to handle the flood,” Selnick tells Townhall. “The real spike in the backlog is poor leadership, poor management, poor planning.”

It’s not as though Sec. Shinseki hasn’t been given the resources to properly address the problem, either. The VA’s budget has increased 40 percent in the last four years but the backlog issue has only gotten worse. “They’re using money like it’s going out of style,” Selnick says. “They haven’t done a good job of making sure they’re spending the money wisely and hiring the additional claims examiners to process the claims to get the backlog down.” There’s billions going out in contracts, travel, conferences, construction, IT and staff that are not directly related to the mission, he adds. For example, the documents obtained by CIR show that after spending four years and $537 million on a new computer system, 97 percent of all veterans’ claims are still on paper. At the regional office in Winston-Salem, N.C., the weight of all the paper files actually ‘exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the building itself’, causing the floors to bow.

Shinseki insists the backlog will be clear by 2015, but according to Selnick, this timeline isn’t acceptable. “The VA has the resources to fix this problem. They need to knuckle down and just do it and stop giving excuses,” he says, adding that people need to be held accountable. “Failure is not an option.”

Necessary reform at the VA will not take place if they feel they can get away with the status quo. This is why Selnick urges Americans to become informed and put the pressure on.

 More information, videos and a petition are available MillionVetBacklog.com.


Leah Barkoukis

Leah Barkoukis is the Managing Editor at Townhall Magazine.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography