Delays and Mistakes Plague Oakland VA Office
In Northern California, figures from the VA say returning soldiers have to wait an average of 320 days for disability claim decisions. Some 35,000 vets in Northern California are awaiting their fates regarding disability claims, with the overwhelming majority waiting over four months — and counting. Nationwide, some 566,000 veterans are waiting on claims.
The inspector general also said it took a look at a batch of cases and found that claims were handled correctly in the Oakland VA only 61 percent of the time, meaning the process would have to be done all over when mistakes were made.
When it came to cases involving a traumatic brain injury, not uncommon among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of botched claims soars to 57 percent. It had been previously stated that the Oakland VA made mistakes on 26 percent of all cases. The news is even worse in the Los Angeles and San Diego offices, with error rates of 97 and 77 percent, respectively.
Outrage over the delays in disability claims grew to the point where Reps. Jackie Speier and Barbara Lee held a town hall type meeting at the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco in late May. There, Speier pledged to “fix” the Oakland VA.
This will not be easy. VA Western area director Willie Clark said at the community meeting claims have increased close to 50 percent in the last four years, to a total of about 1.3 million last year. The Oakland VA handles claims from Bakersfield in central California up north to the Oregon border.
In a letter to the VA, Congressman Jerry McNerney urged Secretary Eric Shinseki to do something about the claim backlog.
“The (Inspector General’s) report shows us concretely what we already knew: the backlog of claims at the Oakland regional office is unacceptable,” wrote McNerney, a Bay Area Democrat who sits on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.” I will continue to hold the VA accountable until we see concrete improvements made as a result of the plan. The number of delayed claims simply must be reduced…
“I’ve heard time and time again from veterans in California about the troubling delays they experienced while having their claims processed. These are truly heartbreaking stories, and this is not the way their service and sacrifice should be honored.”