Vets on VA claims: "Delay, deny, wait till I die." - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Vets on VA claims: "Delay, deny, wait till I die."

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) -- It's a national embarrassment; hundreds of thousands of United States veterans who have waited for months, even years, for their disability benefits.

The backlog of claims is so bad, veterans have a slogan they use to describe the government claims process: Delay, deny, wait till I die.

Fontana resident Karl Kurtz is a veteran with 21 years of military service who told News 8 he has been waiting for three years for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to process his disability claim.

"They're like, ‘We're still working on your claim. We're still working on your claim.' Every time I call, it's like, ‘We're still working on your claim.' Ok, well keep working on it," said Kurtz.

The 45-year-old logistics specialist spoke to News 8 from his home in Fontana via Skype.

"I just want our veterans and their families to be taken care of. I want action," said Kurtz, who has served in the Army and National Guard in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kurtz said he first filed a VA disability claim in August 2010, after suffering hearing loss, back pain arthritis in his knee, and diabetes.

"August will be three years. It's kind of frustrating," said Kurtz. "I love this country with all my heart. It just really seems like they don't care about the soldiers."

Nationwide, some 900,000 veterans are waiting for claim decisions from the VA, according the Center for Investigating Reporting. The average wait time is more than nine months.

Part of the reason for the backlog is the paperwork involved; stacks and stacks of medical records and forms, which the VA is trying to replace with a computerized claims system.

But not all veterans have to wait years for their paperwork to go through.

San Diego Navy veteran and artist Domenic Watts served in the Persian Gulf. Watts told News 8 his claim for post traumatic stress disorder was denied by the VA in just three months.

"You're back in society but you don't know how to cope. You're angry. You can't sleep at night. You have nightmares," said Watts.

"If a veteran defends his country, (the VA) should be more than willing to give us the compensation and the benefits, without all the extra paperwork and a lot of headaches," said Watts.

Watts has now turned to creating art work as a way to ease his pain.

"There are a lot of people that really need the money, really need the help," he said.

VA officials at the regional office in Mission Valley declined to be interviewed on camera by News 8.

Instead, VA San Diego Regional Office Director JoAnn Chambers issued the following written statement:

"Too many Veterans wait too long for a decision on their benefits claims, and this has never been acceptable. VA is implementing a new initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer. Veterans Affairs raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, which will allow Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits immediately, if eligible. Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration for the claim a full year after the provisional rating, before the VA issues a final decision. In addition, this initiative protects the Veteran's right to appeal the decision.

VA will continue to prioritize Veterans who are homeless, terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, and Medal of Honor recipients, those facing financial hardship and our most seriously injured in addition to Fully Developed Claims."

"The problem is, our aging veterans' population. The claims are coming in faster than they can get rid of them," said Scott Langhoff, a service officer with the local Veterans of Foreign War organization.

"Generally, the ones that are having to wait a year or more don't understand the process, and they're not giving the VA the right information so they can make a decision on the claim," said Langhoff.

Agencies like the American Legion or the VFW can help veterans file claims and appeals, free of charge.

"Use an accredited veterans service organization so that your claim or your appeal is properly supported and you will get the swiftest possible answer from the VA," Langhoff said.

The VA is hoping its new initiative will eliminate the backlog by the year 2015.

"I'll believe that when I see it," said Kurtz, the vet in Fontana. "I've been hearing that all along."

Langhoff provided News 8 a list of phone numbers for local organizations that can help vets navigate the claims process:

The following fully accredited  Veteran's Service Organizations have offices in the VA Regional Office located at 8810 Rio San Diego Drive in San Diego:

•The American Ex-Prisoners of War - (619) 400-5342
(Specializing in ex-POW issues)
•The American Legion: - (619) 400-5301
•The American Veterans of WWII (AMVETS) - (619) 400-5303
•The Blinded Veterans Association - (619) 400-5306
(Specializing in Blinded Veteran's issues)
•The California Department of Veterans Affairs - (619) 400-5309 (State Agency)
•The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) - (619) 299-6916
•The Military Order of Purple Hearts (MOPH) - (619) 400-5317
•The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) - (619) 400-5320
(Specializing in Paralyzed Veterans issues)
•The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) - (619) 400-5322
•Joint Outreach Service Office - (619) 365-8263
(Specializing in Outreach to San Diego County's Veterans and their Survivors)


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