Veterans fear longer waits in appeals for disability benefits


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Veterans fear longer waits in appeals for disability benefits

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Mar 10, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Valley veterans left waiting for an answer on their disability benefits are worried about another wait in the appeals process.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to tackle a massive backlog in disability claims. The most recent numbers show more than 58-percent of claims nationwide are more than 125 days. When veterans appeal the decision, they could be left waiting even longer.

"There's days I can't even get up out of bed," said William Stacy of Las Vegas.

Stacy uses a cane to get around. After four years of serving in the U.S. Navy, he has lower back and leg problems.

"I'm used to the pain and I have to work through it," Stacy said. "There's no way I can do a 40-hour a week job."

Records show Stacy filed a disability claim with the VA in January, 2010. The claim was mostly denied. Stacy appealed the decision before benefits board in May, 2013, but he's still waiting on a decision.

"It's tough. It's like your life's put on hold," Stacy said.

A VA performance and accountability report shows the average waiting time for appeal resolution from the Board of Veterans' Appeals increased from 675 days in fiscal year 2012 to 923 days in 2013.

The pending inventory before the board increased from 25,599 in 2012 to 46,974 in 2013, according to the report.

"They're having to sit there and wait and wait and wait," Stacy said.

Sen. Dean Heller joined a group of Senators last week in supporting new legislation to end the claims backlog.

"This backlog, in my opinion, is breaking our promises to our nations' veterans and must come to end soon," Heller said.

Heller helped oversee the VA Claims Backlog Working Group. The group's March, 2014, report calls on veterans to appeal decisions quickly and calls on the VA to find ways to speed up the appeals process. 

The Reno Regional Office accepts claims made in Nevada. The office noted that the number of appeals has been on the rise as the overall number of claims filed increases.

"VA is committed to finding efficiencies and opportunities to improve the appeals system and help Veterans receive timely decisions," Reno management analyst Nathan Miller said in a statement to Action News.

Despite the wait, Stacy said he doesn't have any regrets about his military service.

"I would've definitely went back in. I would have tried not to hurt myself," Stacy said.

The VA has set a goal to eliminate the claims backlog by 2015.