Veterans disability system strained

April 8, 2007 at 8:02 PM

WASHINGTON, April 8 (UPI) -- The disability system for U.S. veterans is backed up and likely to get worse as more veterans from the current military operations in the Middle East apply.

Right now, nearly 400,000 claims are pending from veterans seeking monthly payments ranging from $115 to $2,471 a month, The Washington Post said Sunday. That total includes more than 135,000 exceeding the VA's 160-day processing goal.

"The projected number of claims from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will rapidly turn the disability claims problem into a crisis," said Harvard University's Linda J. Bilmes, who has studied the claims process.

Bilmes, who met VA Secretary Jim Nicholson to discuss the problem, estimates the long-term cost of providing benefits at $70 billion to $150 billion.

The lengthy delays are viewed by some veterans as a lack of will.

"Once we can no longer be utilized as a soldier, we are of no use to them," said Michael Foley, 52, of Thomasville, N.C., a former Navy intelligence specialist who still has nightmares stemming from his Vietnam service. "There is an impression of indifference when you are dealing with the VA benefits people. They are going to get a paycheck no matter what."

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