Frustration builds for veterans stuck in VA claims backlog


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Frustration builds for veterans stuck in VA claims backlog

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Jul 18, 2014

Henderson, NV (KTNV) -- Frustration is building for valley veterans who are caught up in the backlog of disability claims and we're getting a better understanding of just how long some are waiting.

Action News received a slew of emails from other veterans who are fed up waiting on the Department of Veterans Affairs after Thursday's story.

"Army always had a term 'hurry up and wait' and they're actually using that right now," said Kenneth Hayes, a U.S. Army veteran who reached out to the Action News.

Hayes served in the military during the Gulf War, a task that he said left him with post traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the former soldier said he can longer work. He filed a claim with the VA in November of last year.

Hayes filed a separate claim in 2012 that took more than a year to complete. Paperwork from the VA shows his 2013 claim may not be finished until February of 2015.

"Reno, for some reason, has not been able to keep up with their workload," Hayes said.

The Reno Regional Office handles most claims for Nevada and has been taking heat for its performance.

A June report from the Office of Inspector General showed more than half of the claims sampled from the office were not reviewed correctly. 

Senator Dean Heller, R-Nevada, also took a shot at the Reno office during a Congressional committee hearing this week calling the facility the "worst in the country."

The Reno office said it's making progress, noting the average time a claim is pending is currently 183 days, down from its peak of 351 days in 2013.

As for the OIG report, VA Western Area Director Willie Clark said in a statement, "The Reno Regional Office is preparing an action plan on all recommendations from the Office of Inspector General. It should be noted that the OIG stated that its findings do not represent the overall accuracy in processing disability claims."

Numerous vets emailed Action News after Thursday's story to dispute the average wait times provided by the VA.

This week, Sen. Heller said the Reno office was taking up to 340 days to process the average claim, which is much different from the VA's number of 183 days.

So, who's right? Well, both sides, to some degree.

Heller's office said the numbers provided by the VA show the number of days a claim is listed as pending. The Senator's office said the numbers Heller revealed during the committee hearing cover the amount of time it takes to officially complete the claim, which he believes are a more accurate representation.

The VA said it's adding 20 staffers to its Las Vegas office to help process claims. The agency hopes to end the backlog by 2015.

Hayes had a message for lawmakers.

"They need to really, really put their foot down on the VA and make sure they're taking care of veterans," Hayes said.