Thousands of disability claims on backlog for local veterans

I t is taking anywhere between six to 18 months to process veteran disability claims, which our county VA offices says is too long.

The U.S. Veteran's Affairs Secretary is facing accusations that a VA hospital in Arizona made vets wait too long for treatment.

Forty patients died there and other states including California, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and Wyoming are now facing similar claims.

While those problems don't appear to exist in Michigan, other issues with the department do exist.

It is taking anywhere between six to 18 months to process veteran disability claims, which the Charlevoix County VA offices says is too long.

"There were more claims coming in then they could physically take care of," said John Hess, Charlevoix County Veteran's Affairs Officer.

Hess helps veterans apply for federal disability benefits. He helps them file the paperwork and sends it to the district offices in Detroit.

Normally these claims should only take around three months to process, but for the last few years the Detroit office has been backed up, making vets wait for their benefits.

As of April, they had a backlog of more than 5,800 disability claims.

"It just got ahead of them, so now they are going to that back log and trying to trim it down," Hess explained.

And it has come down from 2012, when the backlog exceeded thirteen thousand, but many think the wait is still unacceptable.

"It's absolutely on unacceptable," Congressman Dan Benishek said. "Somebody could be discharged from the service, having had their legs blown off and not get a disability payment for 18 months, how is that acceptable."

Congressman Benishek served as a VA doctor for 20 years and is on the VA house committee.

He has supported legislation that addresses the wait times and backlog. He says his bill will hold VA managers accountable for any problems with services.

"I've been down there myself railing on those guys to see exactly what they do," Benishek said. "They have tables and tables of these paper records and this is been a problem since I've been there."

It's not clear when the Congressman's legislation will go up for a vote.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the national backlog is just more than 300,000 disability claims.