Local Veterans Deal with Backlog

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MEDFORD, Ore. — Many veterans in Southern Oregon are stuck in a backlog of V.A. claims as they continue to feel the effects of their combat injuries. Those veterans are finding themselves in a waiting game as checks are delayed and bills pile up.

The V.A. has said it’s been working harder to reduce those claims still being processed, but vets say they haven’t seen it. Without those claims checks, bills can go unpaid, debt can mount, and veterans find themselves with few options.

Kevin Nieman returned from war three years ago to his wife and young children. Today, he’s still dealing with the effects of his injuries.

“I presently have three claims that are in,” he says.

He’s not alone. The V.A. has hundreds of thousands of claims still being processed, as vets come home with more unique injuries. The end result of that backlog is that veterans like Nieman have to wait longer for assistance.

October’s government shutdown threw another wrench into the mess, making it even longer to get through that claims backlog, and delaying those all-important checks.

“We may be facing a 72-hour eviction notice,” says Nieman. “We’ve got cell phone bills and groceries and tuition for the kids and stuff like that, and it puts everything on the backburner.”

“Being patient is key,” explains Bob Carson, the Director of Jackson County Veterans Services. “Since every claim is different it’s really hard to predict exactly how long each claim is going to take.”

Earlier this year, V.A. employees started putting in overtime to try to process that huge backlog of claims. It’s been working, but slowly. The number of claims that are taking more than a year has dropped, but the overall backlog is still daunting

“Last December the claims backlog was about $900,000, nationally. As of the end of September, the claims backlog was down to about $725,000,” Carson says.

Carson also says more veterans are added to the pile every day.

“Those new people, they run the gamut from World War II on up to current veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Still leaving vets like Nieman stuck in the middle.

“You’re just kind of waiting. The waiting game thing.” Nieman says.

Many veterans dodged a bullet when the government shutdown was ended last month. It was estimated that if the shutdown lasted until November first, about 5 million dollars in checks would not have come to veterans in the Rogue Valley.