Witness Testimony of Anthony Zippo, Orange County Veterans Service Agency, Goshen, NY, Director
Thank you Chairman Hall and other members of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs for giving me the opportunity to speak for our veterans
in Orange County. We have approximately 27,000 veterans in this county, including 1,300 Iraq veterans. Orange County veterans receive 27 million dollars from the Veterans Administration for disabilities and pensions.
As a county veterans’ service agency our staff has had first hand experience with the issues facing veterans today. One of the most frustrating aspects of assisting veterans with disabilities or their survivors, is having to explain that the Veterans Administration processing time could take up to a year, or more. Sometimes it could take 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, a year or even longer. There is no explanation why it takes so long.
We are taught by the VA and Veterans Organizations to submit completed claims.
Often, even when all the evidence is submitted issues are not addressed and claims are delayed. Delaying the claim may also delay the veteran’s medical care, education, voc rehab, tax exemptions and other benefits that the veteran needs.
Very often, these are people who, due to serving their country are no longer able to support their families or otherwise return to their former lives. There was a family stationed at West Point. This family had, I believe 8 children. The officer was in the reserves and was being deployed to Iraq. He was an engineer as a civilian, making a good salary. Of course, being deployed changed all that. West Point didn’t have quarters for the family causing them to live off base. The American Legion had to take this family under its wings and help house and feed them.
Many of our veterans are reservist or National Guard activated to federal duty. When they are deployed they leave behind families and jobs. Many return with injuries, physical and emotional and are unable to assimilate back into their former lives due to their post service disabilities. The delay in the adjudication of their claims put their lives on hold. Monetary benefits and vocational rehabilitation benefits granted in a timely manner could make a more seamless transition back into civilian life.
There are some veterans who because of the delays get deeper into financial debt. They are paying for their medical care and do not receive any benefits from the VA until their claim is settled. In December 2005 we assisted a remarried widow with an application to have her Dependency and Indemnity Compensation restored. This entitlement was based on her first husband who was killed in action in WWII. Her benefits were not restored until March 2007 and only after we advised her daughter to contact her mother’s congressman and the congressman contacted the VA. During the 15 months the claim was pending the widow became gravely ill. It appeared she might pass away before she received her benefits. This was especially frustrating because it was noted in VA records on May 11, 2006 that her benefits should be administratively restored.
Now to defend the Veterans Administration, their staff in the New York Regional office was close to 300 around 3 years ago. Now it’s around 100 due to a hiring freeze, plus their work load has increased because of the war in Iraq. They have now started to hire again. However many people are retiring, Taking with them their experience. VA claims processing is not an easy job. It takes years of working with these claims and training to get the experience to rate a good claim.
Two quick examples from Iraq veterans:
An Iraq veteran was discharged 5/31/06. The VA received a claim for several conditions on 6/1/06. It was noted on the claim he was an Iraq veteran. The claim was still with the predetermination team at least until 3/5/2007 as per the American Legion. On May 7, 2007 the VA granted one of the claimed conditions (10% tinnitus). All other claimed conditions were deferred and are still pending 15 months later.
An Iraq veteran with 2 periods of active duty was last discharge 12/10/05.The VA rec’d claim 5/18/2006. As per the American Legion the claim was with the VA pre determination team as of 12/4/2006. As per the American Legion 2/12/07. The claims file in front office for continued development. As per the American Legion 4/16/07 the claim was with pre determination for continued development. The claim is now 16 months old.