Obama Has Every Reason to Fix the VA. Why Hasn't He?
The candidate made taking care of veterans a pledge and a priority, but hundreds of thousands of them are stuck in a long waiting line for disability decisions.
By Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper
May 14, 2014
Part One in a series on the Veterans Affairs Department.
The failure of the Veterans Affairs Department to quickly compensate veterans for their disabilities is a moral abomination: It leaves soldiers wounded by war waiting in long lines for payments they need and believe they have earned.
And VA failures are under new scrutiny amid reports of a string of preventable deaths among veterans and a growing political controversy around them—and many in Congress are pointing a finger in the White House's direction.
So why has President Obama failed to fix the backlog of veterans' disability claims after five years in office? More than 300,000 claims to the VA have been pending for 125 days or more, a time stamp that puts them in the agency's official definition of "backlogged."
And why did a long line of Obama's predecessors—Republican and Democratic alike—end their own tenures without fixing the problem?
In short, because fixing the VA backlog isn't just a question of putting the proper resources into an overwhelmed agency. Solving it would require not only untangling a Gordian knot of dysfunctional bureaucracy surrounding the VA claims system and decades of neglect, it would also mean overcoming a perfect storm of factors in the past few years that has made the problem much, much worse.
Surge in Claims
The VA received 1 million new claims during Obama's first year in office—the most it had ever received at one time—and the count climbed from there. Annual claims peaked in 2011 at 1.3 million, falling to 1.04 million claims received in 2013.
What's driving the surging number of claims? In short, a pair of wars that have created more veterans and new Obama administration rules that have made veterans from all wars eligible for more disability compensation.