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VA claims backlog affects Central Oregon veterans

By Brittany Weiner
Published On: Nov 12 2013 08:58:29 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 12 2013 08:58:58 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Brittany Weiner looks into the problem of the VA claims backlog and how it affects veterans in Central Oregon.

BEND, Ore. -

"I've been waiting for approximately nine months for my benefits, that's additional benefits," said retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Keith MacNamara.

He is one of the 700,000 veterans nationally waiting for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I figure I have about another six months or so to wait," MacNamara said Tuesday. "About a year and a half (total)."

MacNamara says he's frustrated, and it's a frustration he knows all too well as the veterans services officer for Deschutes County.

"On average, we see anywhere between seven to 10 clients every day," said MacNamara.

Deschutes County's current client load is about 4,500 veterans, most of whom will have to wait anywhere from a year to 18 months to receive their benefits.

"It's a matter of the VA not having enough people to process the claims, and the sheer number of veterans who are out there seeking benefits," said Central Oregon Veterans Outreach volunteer Chuck Hemingway.

Homeless and terminally ill veterans are the only ones who can move to the top of the list. But for many veterans, their spouses, and widows of veterans, it's a frustrating waiting game.

"I got discharged out of the Navy because I fell down into a missile magazine, because my knees gave out and they had to get me off the ship," said Navy veteran Bryan Reed.

He is entitled to disability through the VA for the rest of his life.

Reed says for now, you only need one thing to get through the VA's process.

"You've got to realize that you're one of hundreds of thousands of people doing the same thing, and you have to be patient," said Reed.

President Obama says he doesn't want veterans to have to be patient. He has a goal for the VA to cut the wait for Iraq and Afghanistan war benefits to four months by 2015.

The VA switched to electronic filing this year to help reach that goal. But for now...

"It's a big, big bureaucracy, so it's going to take some time, but it is getting better every day," said MacNamara.

MacNamara says no veteran should go through the application process alone. Veterans Services is there to help veterans through it, and at no cost.

To contact Deschutes County Veterans Services, you can call them at (541) 385-3214. You can also find more about what they do at http://www.deschutes.org/Administration/Veterans-Services.aspx.

COVO also offers other veteran services. To learn more about what they do you can visit their website at www.covo-us.org.

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