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April 4, 2007: Once more, the U.S. Department of Defense screwed up their paperwork. In the latest debacle, wounded troops had to wait months to get an answer from the bureaucrats. This is because disability (for combat injuries) claims went up from 9,000 in 2001 to 15,000 in 2005, and are still rising. The problem this time, are avoidable delays in processing disability claims by veterans. The Department of Defense has not increased the number of people processing these claims, and applicants are often waiting months for a decision.

Veterans who can provide medical evidence that they have disabilities resulting from their military service, especially combat injuries, are eligible for a disability pension. As veterans get older, more of them tend to develop these disabilities. Infantrymen, especially paratroopers, are prone to developing knee and back problems (from all the marching, running around, and jumping out of airplanes, helicopters or armored vehicles). PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) is more openly talked about, and many veterans believe psychological and physical problems are related to PTSD.

More older, and recent, veterans are now applying for disability status, and it was not something that happened suddenly. It didn't take a lot of smarts to see the trend early on, and get more money, to hire more people, to take care of the paperwork. During wartime, claims go up, because many disabilities manifest themselves early on. That should have alerted the Pentagon bureaucrats. Moreover, the eagerness of the media to find bad news during wartime resulted in a lot more stories of the disability issue, making more veterans aware of the disability pensions. Advocacy groups and lawyers read the news as well, and offered to help veterans discover if they had disabilities. The lawyers and scam artists had, for over a decade, been increasingly scamming the civilian disability insurance systems. It was only a matter of time before this opportunism hit the military disability systems as well. While many false claims are caught and denied, they help jam up the system. Finally, many disabilities that show up later in life are not related to strenuous, or injurious, activity you experienced years, or decades, ago when you were in the military. It was this uncertainty that led to the review process in the first place.

The Veterans Administration currently has a backlog for 800,000 claims (for all manner of benefits), and each year about a 100,000 claims are incorrectly dealt with. Someone will come up with a creative excuse for all this, but that means little to the thousands of veterans who, correctly or not, believed they have a service related disability.

This is not the first, nor the most recent, example of the Department of Defense screwing up obvious paperwork issues. Since the massive mobilization of reservists began in 2003, there have been several administrative operations, that take care of activated reservists, that were overwhelmed. This was avoidable, and so is the current mess with disability issues.

 


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