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Disabled veterans waiting longer than 125 days for their initial disability claims to be processed should receive interest on top of their retroactive benefits, says the new commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans' group.
Today, payments on approved claims are backdated to the day they are filed, but interest is not paid.
James Koutz, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War who leads the 2.4-million member Legion, said payments with interest would be a small recognition by the government that veterans had been forced to wait too long for pay they deserved.
His suggestion came Wednesday during a hearing before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees to hear from the Legion's top officials. Similar hearings featuring other military and veterans' groups are held throughout the year.
The issue of delayed claims is not new, but Koutz said it seems to be one without a solution. The Veterans Affairs Department has been hiring more people to process claims and changing how claims are handled in an effort to shorten processing times and start payments faster, yet the backlog of claims continues to grow.
VA efforts to date are "not enough," Koutz said. "We are going the wrong direction."
More than 800,000 claims are now pending before VA, almost two-thirds of them older than 125 days, which is VA's processing goal.
In a written statement provided to the two committees, the Legion says it has discovered huge differences among VA regional offices in the processing of claims. ‘While some regional offices may have an average rate of 76 days per claim, others take 336 days, a troubling inconsistency," the statement says.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, said he is open to new ideas about how to speed claims, but he did not endorse the idea of paying claims with interest.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairwoman, did not attend the hearing.