Disabled vets struggle with broken claims system

One of the biggest frustrations for our returning vets is trying to get disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In an ideal world they would receive benefits within about four months. In the real world it can take years. The VA knows it's a serious problem, and they are working to remedy it. But in the meantime vets, like the one you are about to meet, just wait around and hurt.

Miles Nelson did his bit for the country. The former marine corporal saw more than enough combat in Iraq.

Remember the battle of Falluja? He was there in fact he and his comrades got into a firefight a few minutes after a time photographer snapped this picture. But Nelson is in a different struggle, he has persistent pain. He was even wincing while he sat for our interview.

"I started to find I was in constant pain and it was pain I'd never experienced before," Nelson said.

A year and nine months ago he submitted a general claim with the VA to see what was wrong with him. He says he also entered a huge bureaucracy.

"the first appointment I had just for general concerns I'd go to set it up and they have to go thru 15 people just to make sure I can have an appointment there," Nelson

His list of lowlights to get benefits, no returned phone calls and his claim file mysteriously moved to Pennsylvania and when it did make it to Texas he was scheduled for an exam in San Antonio. But he says the VA never notified him of it.

Hays County Veteran Services Officer Jude Prather is trying to help. He says Nelson's situation is common, in part because the VA system is antiquated and is paper-based.

He showed us a picture of a VA office in North Carolina where one floor held so many files and paperwork the building actually had structural problems.

Now there are pertinent digital and electronic records on Nelson from his service in the marines, those records are at the department of defense.

"If someone wants to submit a claim for benefits they have to have medical proof of that injury or illness...right now the two systems aren't talking, they are both departments of the federal government but surprisingly they don't talk to each other," Prather said.

The VA for its part is trying, the Waco office says in the last year it has reduced pending claims by 40 percent. In the meantime though the Miles Nelsons of the world continue to wait and hurt.

But he's a man who's been shot at and withstood IED explosions, which lends a certain philosophical prospective to his situation.

"I kind of figured that what I've done with my service would make me more upset with what I'm getting in return but actually it gives me a Zen attitude about it because I think I've been through a lot worse than this," he said.

Some basic numbers for prospective here. The VA office in Waco says backlogged claims at their office are now down by 51 percent. Last August there were over 40,000 backlogged claims. By last month there were under 20,000.

As for Nelson FOX 7 is going to keep an eye on his case and see what happens.

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