By
Andrea Michell Reports
updated 5/24/2013 2:49:46 PM ET 2013-05-24T18:49:46

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been scrambling to fix its backlog, which has reached 584,308 claims that have been pending for 125 days or more. About 873,680 veterans have filed claims and that number continues to grow.

As Memorial Day approaches and the nation takes a moment to salute our veterans, hundreds of thousands are currently at war with the Department of Veteran Affairs over pending disability claims.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been scrambling to fix its backlog, which has reached 584,308 claims that have been pending for 125 days or more. About 873,680 veterans have filed claims and that number continues to grow.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have started a petition urging President Obama to intervene and end the backlog. They have started an aggressive social media campaign by using the hashtag #EndTheVABacklog and compiled a list of solutions to achieve the ultimate endgame for this process.

Many factors have contributed to the backlog, including a paper-based process system which should be digitized by the end of this year and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer for IAVA, addressed the paper system on Andrea Mitchell Reports Friday, calling it “a decades old problem.”

“The good news is that the Department of Veteran Affairs is switching to an entirely digital system and as of April of this year, they are not receiving any more paper for claims,” Tarantino said. “The problem is that the majority of the claims in the backlog are either resubmitted claims or older claims so 97% of that claims that are waiting are still in stacks of paper and it is going to take a very long time to walk through those  and frankly, even though they should have anticipated that they have not built the systems to do that in a timely fashion.”

The filed claims include both medical benefits and current needs. According to Tarantino veterans are seeking benefits for assistance with “hearing  loss, tinnitus, scarring, vision loss.” Benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries have also increased but because both are “difficult to diagnose,” they are “difficult to reign”

“As we’re seeing a lot more of these injuries come, especially from the Iraq and Afghanistan generation – who are surviving combat and living with much more complicated injuries, it becomes more difficult to rate,” Tarantino said. “The problem is that the Department of Veteran Affairs did not anticipate this and here we are 11, 12 years into the war and they’re saying well, we’re just seeing this huge flood of cases that they should have anticipated five or six years ago.”

When Mitchell asked Tarantino whether a shakeup is leadership is needed at the Department of Veteran Affairs, he expressed optimism that the changes being made now “will help prevent the backlog in the future,” saying “I think we’re going to see a much more efficient system.”

Tarantino explains that The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are calling on “the president to lead.”

“This isn’t just about the VA,” Tarantino said. “It’s about making sure that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have the same medical records. People who make the veterans and people who care for the veterans should be looking at the exact same file. But right now if you’re a right, you don’t – the President of the United States does not give you clarity as to when you’re going to see an end to your long wait.”

Video: Veterans demand overdue benefits

  1. Closed captioning of: Veterans demand overdue benefits

    >>> as we pause this weekend to salute our veterans, especially on memorial day on monday, thousands of those same veterans are suffering. waiting months, even years for the benefits that are due them. an astonishing 873,000 veterans are estimated to currently be waiting for disability claims in a system still bogged down by paper rather than computerized list, tom tarantino is a former iraq army captain and a chief officer for the iraq and afghanistan veterans of america , welcome, thank you so much for your service. how is it possible that we are still using paper?

    >> it's a decades-old problem. although the good news is that the department of veterans affairs is actually switching to an entirely digital system as of april of this year, they are not receiving any more paper for claims. all claims are coming in that are digital. the problem is that the majority of the claims in the backlog are either resubmitted claims or older claims. so still 97% of the claims that are waiting are still in stacks of paper and it is going to take a very long time to work through those. frankly, even though they should have anticipated that, they have not built the systems to do that in a timely fashion.

    >> we talk about claims, medical benefits, current needs. describe some of the cases you deal with all the time.

    >> these are injuries that were either incurred while in service or exacerbated while in service. the most common ones are things that should be easy. hearing loss , tinnitus, scarring vision loss . we're having a dramatic increase in post traumatic stress . so as we're seeing a lot more of these injuries come, especially from the iraq and afghanistan generation, who are surviving combat and living with much more complicated injuries, it becomes more difficult to rate. the problem is that the department of veteran affairs did not anticipate this. here we are, 11, 12 years into the war and they're saying we're seeing this huge flood of cases that they should have anticipated five, six years ago.

    >> does there need to be a complete shakeup there at the v.a.?

    >> i think what they're doing is going to help prevent the backlog in the future. for future cases i think we'll see a much more efficient future system . the problem now is they have this overwhelming pile of paper. there's no way to describe it can you google images and it's shocking. that they're going to have to work through. and the v.a. says they're going to work through it by 2015 . but behaven't seen any of the metrics or benchmarks that will prove that they're going to get there.

    >> one of the horrible ironies we have is we have better equipment in the field, so people are surviving, they're surviving horrendous injuries. we're getting them medivac'd out and treating them better, but there are more veterans that really need help. major help.

    >> and these are men and women out in the middle of the country who have been waiting two, three, four, five, sometimes 600 days if you're in a major city in iraq or afghanistan veteran, you're waiting close to 600 days forror claim and you don't see any light at the end of the tunnel . we're calling on the president of the united states to lead this isn't just about the v.a. this is about making sure that the department of defense and the department of veterans affairs have the same medical records . they should be looking at the exact same file. but right now if you're a vet, the president of the united states does not give you a clarity as to when you're going to see an end to your long wait.

    >> this is about who we are as a country, tom.

    >> especially on memorial day , when we're supposed to remember those that we have lost. you can go to our website to take a moment of silence on your day off and remember those that we have lost and those we have fought for. we have to focus on taking care of those who are home, recovering from combat as well.

    >> tom tarantino, thank you very much.

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