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Paper System, Expanded Benefits Created VA Backlog

It’s like something out of an anxiety dream.

A backlog of veterans claims at the Veterans Affairs center in Winston-Salem, N.C. has led the VA inspector general to warn last year that a floor in the building could collapse from the weight.

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The VA operates mostly on a paper system, and that paper load is “compromising the structural integrity of the sixth floor of the facility,” the IG warned. “We noticed floors bowing under the excess weight to the extent that the tops of file cabinets were noticeably unlevel throughout the storage area.”

There’s more. The VA IG saw “files stored approximately two feet high and two rows deep on top of file cabinets” in this center. It found file cabinets “were placed so closely together that file drawers could not be opened completely. We estimated that approximately 37,000 claims folders were stored on top of file cabinets.”

Boxes of files are blocking exits, are stacked too close to overhead sprinklers, and files are falling from the tops of file cabinets onto employees. In fact, “in 2011, one employee experienced a minor shoulder injury when claims folders fell on him from the top of a filing cabinet,” the VA IG has said, possibly leading him to file his own claim.

The fallout? Painfully long wait times for veterans.

The American Action Forum estimates that, after reviewing more than 300 regulatory demands on veterans, returning U.S. soldiers spend 43.4 million hours filling out 613 forms for 18 different government bureaus, which take 3 hours to complete per person, at a total estimated cost of more than $600 million.

Meanwhile, VA delays continue to soar. The forum says the “number of veterans waiting more than a year to receive benefits jumped from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 by December 2012.”

Because the VA is largely not computerized, the total “logjam” is now estimated at about 600,000 veterans waiting on VA action. Specifically, the VA has about 592,222 claims, or roughly two-thirds of all claims, pending longer than 125 days. Overall, 833,130 vets are waiting on compensation and pension claims

One government form, the forum points out, the “Income-Net Worth and Employment Statement,” contains 40 questions and takes vets one hour to complete.

And the AAF found that “four different agencies administer 12 million hours of paperwork related to veterans’ employment and training, imposing 24 different forms, at a cost of $892 million.”

Compounding the problem, the VA tells FOX Business, is that the agency has expanded benefits: “Many veterans are returning with severe, more complex injuries,” plus the agency is working with an aging veteran population.

Moreover, it says VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “made the long overdue decisions to recognize for the first time medical conditions related to Agent Orange, post traumatic stress disorder, Gulf War illness – which has led to a nearly a million new claims.” The majority of claims date back to the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.

And the VA says that under Secretary Shinseki, the VA “has greatly expanded access to earned care and benefits for veterans of all eras. Over the last four years, over 940,000 veterans were added to the compensation rolls -- more veterans than are on active duty in the Army and Navy combined today.”

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