Returning veterans are now facing a new enemy at home--long wait times for their disability claims.
The waiting times started increasing in 2010 when U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq causing a dramatic uptick in first-time filers, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The data found that in most regional VA offices, not only did waiting times increase, but they vary dramatically with location: about a year and five months in Baltimore, Maryland compared to four months in Fargo, North Dakota. The national average now stands at about a year and one month, which is dramatically higher than in 2009 when it was four months.
According to the data for the Chicago VA Regional Office, 2122 W. Taylor St., 19,712 veterans were waiting for a response from the VA for compensation for a disease, injury or illness linked to their service as of May 13.
The backlog has also partly been blamed on the VA still using paper to process their claims. In 2009, the Department started implementing a computerized system in several of its regional offices. However, despite spending $357 million on the new program and hiring 3,330 more claims processors, 97 percent of veterans’ claims are still on paper.
Still, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki pledged back in March that the VA will end the enormous backlog by 2015.
While Memorial Day, which is celebrated this Monday, is officially a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, in practice it's often a day to recognize living veterans locally.
The data above was obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and is updated weekly.