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Slow process for veterans seeking benefits in Pittsburgh

Men and women in the Pittsburgh area who served their country and now want to apply for disability benefits through the Veterans Benefits Administration should expect to wait a long time. The Pittsburgh VA Regional Office has one of the worst turnaround times on disability applications in the U.S., according to a recent nationwide study. Local veterans have to wait an average of 10 months before receiving a decision from the VA.

And if they are turned down for benefits, the appeals process can be even longer. Appeals take an average of 3 ½ years to resolve. For many older veterans, this is a serious problem. It means that they may not be awarded the disability benefits they deserve because their appeal is still crawling through the system when they pass away.

The problem appears to be that the Pittsburgh VA office is dealing with a huge increase in veterans seeking disability benefits. With veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War in their 70s, 80s and beyond, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bringing home thousands of disabled veterans, it is perhaps no surprise that the approval process has grown 40 percent longer in the past 15 months. Nationwide, disability claims have increased nearly 50 percent in the last four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports.

Changes in the rules have also slowed the process, local officials say. They include a new rule that allows veterans to file a claim six months before leaving the military. Also, the VA recently added two new illnesses to the list of conditions presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange exposure and made those claims a top priority.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Vets endure long wait for benefits rulings," Jodi Weigand, Oct. 31, 2012


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