Hundreds of thousands of veterans are sitting and waiting for their claims for benefits to be reviewed as the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs pushes to hire 2,000 employees to help with the growing caseload.
In an email sent out to veterans in October, the VA projected a backlog of pending cases to reach 260,000 out of an inventory of 603,000 cases.
This backlog comes as the VA is adding three new presumptive health conditions to those deployed to Asia.
“These three conditions are respiratory conditions: chronic asthma, sinusitis, and rhinitis,” said Beth Murphy, Executive Director of Compensation Service.
She says those impacted by the new conditions are those who deployed to southwest Asia from August of 1990 to present day or were deployed in Syria, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan or Djibouti from September 19, 2001, to present day.
“There's a potentially eligible population, among those folks, up to 3.5 million veterans,” Murphy said.
That's a case load that, depending on how many of those eligible apply, will bog down a process with a 125-day average timeline for a case decision, according to Murphy.
She says teams are working overtime to process claims.
“Just since August, we've already processed 4,000 claims, millions of dollars in benefits and health care to these veterans,” Murphy said. “We continue to process the claims as they come in. And we're encouraging folks to file if they have one of these conditions, or if they have a respiratory condition, and they're not quite sure if it's one of those three. Please reach out, ask questions, file a claim. We're here to help.”
As of the 4th quarter of fiscal year 2021, Kentucky has 4,125 servicemembers signed up to the "Burn Pit Registry," according to data on the VA website. Ohio has 6,215 participants and Indiana has 3,489.
Those are just those who’ve signed up for the registry, and the presumptive conditions are not just tied to the burn pits. The conditions are tied to particulates in the air from a range of sources.
If you’re a veteran who has already applied for benefits, you should receive something in the mail notifying you of the new illnesses tied to presumptive conditions and toxic exposure.
“If you've already filed a claim for one of these conditions, but it's still pending, you haven't received a decision yet, we’re asking folks to sit tight on those. They will be processed, and they will be considered under all available service connection,” Murphy said.
If you haven’t filed and you’re a veteran who served in those regions, head over to VA.org to begin the process for applying for benefits.