Advocacy group shares stories from veterans in claims backlog

By Daniel Moore, News21

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America on June 20 launched an  interactive database that shares the personal experiences of more than 1,700 post-9/11 veterans who are waiting — some for more than 10 years — on their disability claim to be processed.

The New York-based veteran advocacy group collected information from their members with a survey asking details about their claim, disabilities, wait time and how that wait has affected them emotionally and financially. Using the interactive, titled “The Wait We Carry,” the public can view each veteran’s response sorted by a variety of metrics, including location.

The public also may send messages to veterans to learn more of their story. Messages are sent to IAVA, which double checks with the veteran to make sure they are still open to speaking publicly.

Aminatou Sow, IAVA director of digital engagement, said the project is designed to “put a face to the big scary numbers” of the much-reported backlog of claims at VA regional offices by reaching out to all communities.

“One thing that we hear a lot from veterans is how they don’t feel heard specifically,” Sow said. “It’s one thing to say half a million people are still waiting for benefits, but the point of digital storytelling that the individual data points are as important as the aggregate.”

IAVA worked with Periscopic, an information design firm, and used a grant from the Knight Foundation to create the interactive.

As backlogged vets protest, soon-to-be vets prepare to file claims

Written by Daniel Moore, News21 // Video by Jessica Wilde, News21

The backlog of compensation and pension claims is down 4.7 percent in the last month and more than 10 percent lower than in February, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday.

The agency has, in recent months, steadily reduced the claims backlog, which VA defines as those pending for more than 125 days, according to the weekly workload report. VA processed more than 4,000 claims last week alone, although the backlog stands at 565,327.

Concerned Veterans of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit, has in recent weeks campaigned for President Obama   to address the backlog. The Million Vet Backlog petition, which on Friday surpassed 20,000 signatures, also calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, citing a 2,000 percent increase in backlogged claims since he took office.

In Tucson, at the Airman Family and Wellness Center on Davis Monthan Air Force Base, however, dozens of soon-to-be veterans crammed into a windowless room to complete the final day of Transition Assistance Program.

Airman files disability claim before retirement from News21 on Vimeo.

During a two-hour morning session, “Briefing on VA Benefits,” George Henderson, a military service coordinator, touted the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program, which allows service members to file disability claims within 180 days of the discharge date.

“Do this before you actually separate, because you could be a part of the backlog wherever you go,” Henderson told the class. “I’m telling you, there are 18,000 claims up in Phoenix right now. You wait until you get out and you stay in Arizona, you’d be 18,001.”