Alex Witt   |  March 31, 2013

VA facing massive backlog of pending claims

Ret. U.S. Army Col. Jack Jacobs and New York State Senator Greg Ball join MSNBC’s Richard Lui to weigh in on the extreme backlog of pending claims the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is facing.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> joining me now is medal of honor recipient and retired colonel jack jacobs and new york state senator, chairman of the veterans homeland security and military affairs committee and a c captain in the air force reserves . good to see you both here today. let's start with this, colonel, the data from the va, disturbing and you've seen the numbers. the va saying that they nearly have 900,000 disability claims pending with an average wait of 273 days. the average wait in major cities is two years. how do we get to this point?

>> part of it is due to the va it self and their attempt to do the right thing. when the general, who is the secretary of veterans affairs took charge, he's himself a wounded veteran, he decided people who have pts and veterans from veietnam who were subject to agent orange should be entitled to va benefits, cash money for disability. and so he made them all eligible. now for the bad news, the va is singularly unequipped to handle those claims. it's on a paper system not dij rised and it's going to take about 2 1/2 years at least until it's able to catch up with all the claims.

>> senator ball, as we look at these pictures here, they really are shocking. this is just piles and piles of shelves and shelves of cases, each one representing a veteran who put everything for this country forward and now to come back and have to see this in terms of their specific case perhaps being put off for years. what's your reaction?

>> quickly, i'm not in the active reserves now. i was promoted to captain. when you look at the files, some of the men and women coming back, when they hit a brick wall like that after they've served their kcountry, they have it particular issues with running into a bureaucracy and not being taken care of in the tender way that they need to be taken care of. i see this every single day. great men and women who work with the administration, with these veterans. we do a very good job of getting young men and women to raise their right handling to fight and die for this country. we do not do a good job of transitioning them back into the civilian sector, giving them the benefits they were promised and transitioning them to have meaningful employment not as a handout but as the opportunity to use their skill sets that they have in a way to create jobs and to continue a tradition of service in this kcountry.

>> colonel, another part of this interviewing veteran affairs secretary on wednesday as you imparted the affair going on for two years. what is he saying to address this issue, those piles and piles of files you saw there? but in addition to that, as the state senator was alluding to, jobs.

>> he's going to digitize and they're working on it. it's interesting to note while the federal government has taken an enormous slash in its budget and, by the way, will continue to downsize in terms of how much money spent, the department of veterans affairs has a huge increase in its budget and it's mostly to deal with this problem but with respect to jobs there's a big problem. part of the problem is the defense department . it's interesting to note that it takes, what, eight, 12 weeks, maybe more, sometimes as long as a year to turn a civilian into a soldier, sailor, airman, marine. a week to turn them back into a civili civilian. this is bad news. the defense department has to take more responsibility for transition. the second thing, and the defense department needs to get involved in this, too, there's got to be an education process. employers don't realize that veterans are the best people they can get, have authority, responsibility at a very early age and employers need to know this.

>> state senator ball, i have the opportunity to meet many of them at these fairs and they are so driven. they have the skills that the colonel is talking about. 200,000 turning into civilian life every year. trying to get 100,000, 400,000 more. they have 100,000 so far. how important is it for jobs as a solution to help those returning veterans to reintegrate?

>> i have to tell you, i worked with a lot of service disabled vets who have many times the disability who are heroes and you're a hero. it's a pleasure to be with you today. they don't want to. they want to continue to serve as an example to their families. the federal match for the service of disabled vets and, you're right. these veterans have the skill sets. they're not looking for a handout. they are looking for that opportunity. the government has to get involved in the same way that we get involved to pay and fund these wars, we have to be just as proactive to make sure we transition these vets into the civilian life and work with employers to provide the incentives to actually make it worth their while to hire these vets and once given a chance they'll never go back. they only want to hire vets.

>> and vets looking for jobs, companies that have jobs for