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Vets Views: VA claims mushrooming in number and complexity

Greg Remus

You may have read in the media about how the VA is falling behind on processing claims for services and benefits.

According to Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Miller, 67 percent of claims are taking more than 125 days and there is a 30 percent error rate. He also indicated there has been a 50 percent growth in the number of claims since 2008 and the complexity has increased dramatically due to expanding benefits access to veterans with claims for Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder and Gulf war illness.

The VA facilities that process claims for compensation and pension benefits are the VA Regional Offices. They are not part of the VA Medical Administration. The Regional Office that supports Hubbard County is the St Paul VA Regional Office (VARO).

This VARO processes claims from the State of Minnesota with the exception of Becker, Beltrami, Clay, Clearwater, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Ottertail, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Roseau, and Wilkin counties which are served by the Fargo VARO.

The St Paul VARO has a staffing level of 700. This is a significant increase since 2006 when they were at 381. Vietnam Era Veterans (137,580) are the largest group of veterans served by this VARO followed by Peacetime Veterans (99,531), Gulf War Era (67,228), Korean (38,223), WWII (27,330) and Global War on Terror Veterans (18,000+).

St Paul VARO catchment area contains 348,720 male veterans and 23,213 female veterans.

Statistically, if you were to take a snapshot of the station they have 5,501 pending claims taking an average of 230 days to complete a claim. The following is a breakout in terms of dollars for 2011.

The total amount awarded for 113,440 death compensation claims was $143,654,213; $23,810,772 was awarded for 39,748 widows pension claims; $65,444,179 was awarded for 78,224 compensation claims; and $75,274,321 was awarded for 81,129 pension claims.

The VAROs are trying to get a handle on the volume and complexity of claims. The St Paul VARO is consistently rated as one of the best in the nation in terms of timeliness and accuracy.

We should appreciate the efforts made by the employees at the St. Paul VARO, but also recognize there remain serious problems associated with processing VA claims. There clearly is a need for improvement.

As always the purpose of the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office is to provide assistance and support to eligible veterans, their dependents and survivors in obtaining benefits through the State and Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, and to provide benefit counseling, claims service, referral and assistance in a variety of other programs.

You can contact me at the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office at 201 Fair Ave, Park Rapids, (218) 732-3561. Have a great day! And I will be in Laporte at the Lakeport Town Hall from 9-noon and at the ARCC in Akeley from 1-3 pm every 3rd Thursday of each month.