Veterans upset at VA for backlog of disability claims

May 21, 2012 6:19:52 PM PDT
Bay Area veterans are frustrated and angry because they are tired of dealing with a long backlog of disability claims with the Veterans Administration.

Some veterans have waited years for their claims to be processed. They're specifically directing their anger at the Oakland VA office where the inspector general says there is a backlog of about 34,000 cases. So Monday, veterans came to the Veterans building in San Francisco to get some help.

The veteran's benefits office is on the 12th floor of the Oakland Federal Building.

"That's the black hole, the VA, because you can't get anything resolved with your claims," said Vietnam vet Douglas Briggs.

Briggs was one of hundreds of veterans who came to the meeting to voice their anger. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, hosted the forum to help the mostly older vets process their overdue claims. An inspector general's audit found that veterans were waiting an average 320 days for the Oakland office to act on their claims. And when they did, they had an error rate of 38 percent.

"Our country is swift to go to war, but not swift to responding to the war heroes when they come home," said Speier.

"This is an outrage that should never have happened. This is a moral imperative," said Lee.

Dennis Rushing is a Vietnam vet who's 90 percent disabled. He wants to know why his benefit claims were sent to the Oklahoma VA's office.

"I phoned the VA in Oakland. I couldn't get any answers," said Rushing.

Among those who showed up to get answers was Sargent Binkley, a disabled West Point graduate and decorated Army veteran, whose story ABC7 News has followed.

Six years ago, he was arrested for robbing a pharmacy, pointing an unloaded gun at the pharmacist. He stole painkillers which military doctors prescribed instead of treating his PTSD. Three years ago, a trial jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Since then, Binkley has completed extensive therapy sessions, but he told us, the Oakland VA has yet to process his claims for PTSD.

"I found out today that after two plus years, they haven't even looked my material that I gathered from numerous doctors from the VA and privates," said Binkley.

Officials from the Oakland VA office say the backlog was caused by the economy which has triggered a jump in the number of claims, but they say the accuracy rate of 38 percent, which the inspector general found, is not accurate. The accuracy rate is really only 14 percent. They say that the inspector general miscalculated.

Regardless, the veterans are not pacified.


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