The president and the first lady are scheduled to address the annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans this weekend in Orlando, and organizers say they want to hear what the White House will do to address the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to address the convention’s joint opening session at noon Saturday after an introduction by his wife, Michelle Obama.
The convention is expected to be attended by 4,000 veterans, according to organizers, who said that a “central discussion will be what actions the VA and Congress are implementing to eliminate the backlog for delivering benefits to veterans.”
The backlog issue has played out prominently at the VA’s St. Petersburg regional office, one of the nation’s busiest. The office has been the subject of complaints by veterans, some of whom have waited more than 560 days for a decision.
In April, The Tampa Tribune obtained documents compiled by the St. Petersburg office that showed nearly 70 percent of veterans seeking compensation through that office wait at least 125 days for a rating, a formula that determines how much compensation they receive.
The VA considers claims requests older than 125 days to be backlogged. As of the end of 2012, there were nearly 50,000 pending claims, nearly half older than 215 days. And there were more than 7,500 veterans who had been waiting a year to 569 days to receive their benefit ratings.
In March, the Tribune wrote about a retired Green Beret who waited 1,000 days — including more than a year with the St. Petersburg office — for his compensation benefits, which were not approved until after a call from the newspaper.
In a June statement, the VA said it completed 2,126 claims for veterans in Florida who had been waiting more than two years for a decision. In addition, “the employees of the St. Petersburg Regional Office also played a significant role in completing veterans’ oldest claims from across the nation, including 943 claims for veterans in the state of Washington.”
The VA said in its statement that some 2-year-old claims are outstanding due to “unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas.”
The VA, which has faced withering criticism over the backlog issue from veterans, Congress and the public, says ending the backlog of cases older than two years is part of the “overall transformation plan to end the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy.”
In its most recent report, the VA said that there are more than 800,000 claims pending, of which about 524,000 are backlogged at least 125 days.