Congressmember Grace Meng has introduced legislation to eliminate the massive backlog of disability claims that forces veterans in Queens to wait an average of nearly 500 days for their benefits, one of the longest wait times in the entire country.
“Forcing disabled veterans to wait such long periods of time to receive the vital benefits they require is disgraceful and unconscionable,” said Meng. “Our veterans and returning troops who valiantly served our country must not continue be subjected to these shameful and inexcusable delays. They deserve better. That’s why I’ve introduced this critical legislation to help fix the problem. We can never thank our veterans enough for the sacrifices they made to our nation, and now we must do all we can to help them receive the benefits they rightly deserve.”
More than 878,000 veterans have disability claims waiting to be processed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at present. Nearly 593,000 of them have gone past the department’s processing goal of 125 days.
Nationwide, the average time for the VA to process claims is 310 days. However, in Queens, the average wait time is 499 days, according to Meng.
Further, nearly 14 percent of the claims processed by the VA’s New York City office contain errors. That is significantly higher than the VA’s target error rate of two percent.
Disability benefits include critical care for everything from major combat injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder to Agent Orange exposure.
Meng’s legislation, entitled the VA Regional Office Accountability Act, would require annual reports on VA regional offices that fail to meet the VA’s target of processing claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.
The reports are intended to speed up benefits by allowing Congress and the VA to better understand the challenges that prevent regional offices from reaching their goals. The reports would also propose solutions on how to rectify the problem.
They would be required to explain why the office did not meet the goal, what resources it needs to meet it and how the failure affected the performance evaluation of the office director.
The VA office in downtown Manhattan is one of 58 regional VA offices across the country that provide benefits and services to veterans and their dependents. The New York facility serves about 608,000 veterans throughout Queens and New York City, Long Island and the rest of the state.
The backlog in claims has been attributed to several factors. These include an increase in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, extending additional benefits to Vietnam-era veterans, a lack of adequate staffing and an antiquated claim system that is not computerized.