RHINELANDER - Veterans served our country, but now it seems their claims aren't being served. |
The Department of Veteran's Affairs has a backlog of 860,000 disability claims, and nearly 230,000 of those have been waiting a year or more.
Oneida County's veterans service officer Tammy Walters said part of the reason processing has slowed is positive.
The V.A. is getting the word out about more disabilities, and that means veterans can get help.
But that positive comes with a negative – even more claims and a slower wait.
"When I first got here, I would say a long claim took six months, and now they take a year or more," said Walters, who started over six years ago.
Iraq war veteran Kelly Keating has also seen a slowdown.
"Everyone keeps telling me, just be patient with it, it takes time," Keating said. "You get sick of hearing it, but you have no choice."
No choice, but plenty of problems. After Keating came back, she drank a lot. She still has nightmares, spinal problems, and headaches.
"They never told us to document anything, and when you go back now to do your comp, they look for documentation. And half the time there isn't any," she said.
No documentation is just one reason things have slowed down. It's also because of our current war, and one that ended 37 years ago.
"Any veteran who stepped boot on ground in Vietnam is automatically presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. And they're finding that Agent Orange has caused a multitude of disabilities," Walters said. "As time has gone on, they've added more disabilities to that list."
Whether the injuries are old or new, the effect is the same.
"A lot of people can't work because of their service-related disabilities, and they don't know when they're going to get paid, they're struggling to get by day-to-day," Walters said. "There's really nothing we can do, other than empathize, but that doesn't pay their bills."
"You just have to wait, wait, wait, that's what the military is about," Keating said.