Cases involving the appeal of veterans benefits rulings take almost 19 months to resolve, Department of Veterans Affairs records show, and advocates say the crush of new claims is hurting older veterans.
At least 350,000 veterans of wars before those in Iraq and Afghanistan have outstanding appeals of benefits decisions, according to VA records.
Meanwhile the VA has touted how much it has cut the backlog of benefits claims that have taken longer than 125 days to resolve from 611,000 in 2013 to 344,000 in April.
Progress in resolving initial benefits claims has come at the expense of settling older claims, said Glenn Bergmann, a former VA attorney who now fights veterans’ appeals cases at Bergmann & Moore LLC.
“They pull all the back-of-the-line guys to front, but they stole from Peter to pay Paul, and these veterans have been abandoned again,” Bergmann said. “They’re dying while they’re waiting.”
The time it takes the agency to handle claims or treat patients at its hospitals has come under more intense scrutiny following the reports that some veterans died while awaiting care at VA hospitals and that some hospital administrators altered documents to make the delays look shorter than they really were.
Walinda West, a VA spokeswoman, said a simple appeals case takes an average of 562 days, but each supplemental piece of evidence can extend that delay by another 200 days.