The additional money for veterans services can be considered a positive in the budget which, unfortunately, calls for billions more in taxes, an anathema to Republicans, and some cuts in entitlements, unacceptable to liberal Democrats.
The Obama budget would provide $63.5 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Veteran Affairs, up 4 percent over the current budget.
But there would be a 13.6 percent hike to $2.5 billion in discretionary spending for the Veterans Benefits Administration, including almost $300 million for two programs for digitizing disability claims.
That improvement in technology is aimed at reducing a backlog of almost 900,000 disability claims resulting in waits averaging more than 315 days.
The backlog total was expected to hit 1 million by the first of this month.
Of the 850,000 pending claims in the VA, almost 70 percent have been waiting for more than 125 days, the agency has acknowledged.
Some veterans have been waiting for years, an average 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago, as noted in a previous column.
This state of affairs prompted the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to descend on Washington last month, pushing for action to fix the backlog.
Among the stories posted on the IAVA website are such shocking examples as this from a Vietnam veteran:
“We of the Vietnam era have been put to the back burner. I have spent so much wasted time and energy just trying to find representation. I have yet to have my video interview and have been told that after that happens it will be at least an additional two to three years. I (think) they are hoping I will dead by then, and they can move on to the next lost soul.
“VA does not have my back or anyone’s for that matter. While I have not given up all hope, I have given up.”
A veteran of Iraq says he submitted his claim in October 2009 and still is waiting for a decision regarding injuries and complications.
In his view, “The VA needs to make their numbers look good so they process easy claims first and keep burying mine under the pile.”
Maybe Obama got the message in view of his budget proposal to increase spending for the digital processing of claims. His secretary of veterans affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, reiterated the plan is to digitize claims processing in every VA regional office by year end with the objective of eliminating the backlog by 2015 — another two years of waiting.
Obama’s new budget proposal was welcomed by the IAVA’s Chief Executive Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq veteran, but he ob-served, “No one has said this is a money problem.”
He added, “Really what we’re talking about is execution.”
Our veterans deserve better.