According to former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi, the VA backlog of disability claims is in large part due to the more recent policy decisions and laws have burdened the system.
Principi argued that current eligibility requirements are far more liberal than, as President Lincoln once charged, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” He said that the 50,000 veterans wounded inIraqandAfghanistanwho have filed for disability claims are not the reason the system is clogged, but that the system was already overwhelmed by veterans who were filing claims from long-ago service.
“While every benefits system may face the occasional questionable filing, the focus of the VA disability benefits system needs to support the servicemen and servicewomen who need those benefits to which they are entitled,” commented veterans disability attorneyJames Fausone.
Principi called for the restoration of the “integrity” of the Veterans Administration claims system in a keynote address this June at forum on the VA. The forum, co-hosted by Concerned Veterans for America The Weekly Standard magazine, featured Principi’s keynote, where he stated that Congress, vet service organizations and the VA must address the expansion of disability pay eligibility. Principi has called for a “rebalancing” of priorities or the VA system will be at risk, he said. His remarks were in sharp contrast to other speakers, who urged the VA to work more efficiently and faster on the backlog of disability claims still pending.
More than one million claims are filed each year; an estimated 80 percent of these are filed from veterans who served prior to 2001, Principi said. A vet who served a single day inVietnamcan file for medical conditions typically seen in aging men, Principi said, such as prostate cancer, lung cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Type II diabetes.
It has been 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, and 37 percent of VA claims have been filed byVietnamvets, twice as many as those filed by recently discharged vet, according to Principi. And, says Principi, as much as 11 percent of claims, 100,000 or more, have been filed by veterans who never saw conflict. Vietnam-era vet claims increased, posited Principi, due to assumptions that “ailments of aging” such as some heart diseases and Type II diabetes, were added to the list the VA accepted as caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
The VA paid out $26.6 billion in 2005 in disability compensation. By the end of 2013, it will pay out more than $60 billion.