Errors plague VA’s battle to cut disability benefits backlog

Hosea Roundtree, 54, says he suffers from flashbacks of the shelling he witnessed in Beirut while aboard a U.S. Navy ship in 1983. (Michael Short/Center for Investigative Reporting)

Hosea Roundtree, 54, says he suffers from flashbacks of the shelling he witnessed in Beirut while aboard a U.S. Navy ship in 1983. (Michael Short/Center for Investigative Reporting)

U.S. Navy cook Hosea Roundtree watched the 1983 shelling of Beirut from the deck of a ship, feelings of helplessness washing over him as people perished onshore. That memory haunted him, resurrected in flashbacks eight years later after a tour in the Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.

But when Roundtree’s claim for disability benefits crossed Jamie Fox’s desk at the Department of Veterans Affairs more than two decades later, it was slated for denial on the grounds that he had never seen combat.

Fox, herself a Navy veteran, tried to straighten things out – and for that, she lost her job.

A Center for Investigative Reporting review of the VA’s performance data reveals chronic errors – committed in up to 1 in 3 cases – and an emphasis on speed over accuracy that clogs the VA system with appeals, increasing delays for all veterans.

As of mid-October, appeals represented nearly a third of the more than 819,000 pending disability claims. Nationwide over the past year, the average time a veteran waits for a decision has increased by more than two months – to 260 days.

Veterans who appeal wait an average of 3½ years, according to VA performance data obtained by CIR through the Freedom of Information Act.

Read more in the Center’s report about errors by VA staff   and how the head of the Oakland VA regional office where Fox worked said “it didn’t matter if the decision (to deny Roundtree’s claim) was right or wrong.”

Compare backlogs and wait times at the 58 VA regional offices on the Center’s interactive map.

See other coverage of veterans issues by the Center from its Returning Home to Battle project.

 

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