Bay Area vets wait months for VA to process claims

August 29, 2012 8:16:47 PM PDT
New numbers are revealing just how long it can take for a Bay Area veteran to collect on a disability claim with the Veterans Administration. The findings were published today by ABC7 News media partner California Watch, a unit of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley.

In the Bay Area and across California, veterans are waiting more than nine months on average to hear a decision on a war-related disability claim. One veteran-in-waiting just wants her service and her sacrifice to be acknowledged.

Army veteran Dottie Guy was a prison guard for high-value detainees in Iraq in 2003.

"And, while I was there, I didn't have plates in my vest, so I was there, basically, without protection," Guy said.

She left Iraq uninjured, but nine years later Guy finds herself hyper-aware of her surroundings.

"I think it's all because, you know, I didn't have that layer of protection, that I had to be more aware than most people," she said.

The stigma of depression and her anxiety kept Guy from seeking help. What ultimately led her to the county veterans service office was a foot and ankle injury sustained in basic training.

"He started asking me these really random questions like, you know, 'Where do you sit in restaurants?' and that kind of thing," Guy said. "And I'm like 'I sit so I can see the door,' and I told him all that. And he was like 'Yeah, I'm going to give you a number; you need to call someone.'"

Guy has been waiting nearly a year and a half for a decision on her PTSD claim.

Across California, veterans who file claims are waiting months to hear back from the VA and in Oakland, the average is more than nine months -- one of the longest waits in the country.

"Those of us who do this work, of course, we've been knowing this for years, decades," Swords to Plowshares spokesperson Michael Blecker said.

Blecker says veterans advocates' hands are tied.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who held a hearing recently on the matter is leading a bipartisan effort to press the VA for a plan that deals with the backlog.

"We had one veteran at our fix-it meeting that we had from World War II, who fought the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day and for him to have to wait a year and a half at the age of 94 to get a response from the VA borders on criminality," she said.

The VA issued a statement that reads, in part: "VA has completed a record-breaking one million claims per year ? yet too many veterans have to wait too long to get the benefits they have earned and deserve. That's unacceptable?"

They say they are working to decrease the time a veteran needs to wait to find out if they can get help.

Load Comments