As of right now, if a former service member were to file a disability claim in Pennsylvania, it would likely take more than 300 days to get processed.
“If this is the stand they are going to take they need to stop sending us to war, plain and simple,” VFW State Commander Russell Canevari said.
The growing pile of disability claims on the Veterans Affairs desk has taken a toll on VFW members. That's why Canevari took a trip to Washington last week.
“We said, 'We don't want any more promises, just fulfill the promises you gave us when we were drafted,” Canevari said. “They just stood there and said, 'You know what? It's about time.' “
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is behind a bill that would expedite the claims filing process which is still done by hand.
“They would hope and expect that the VA would provide that type of service to them in terms of the claims processing. That is commiserate to their commitment to the country. That hasn't happened,” Casey said.
Audrey Bergstresser served in Vietnam, spent 23 years interpreting government text and holds a masters degree, but still:
“None of them helped me file a claim,” she said. “I was as lost as anyone else when I got paperwork back from the VA, knowing what they want, what they needed. That's what got me interested in becoming a claims officer.”
Bergstresser says the VFW hand delivers claims to the VA with a timestamp. That's important because disability claims are paid retroactively.
For one local vet, the assistance didn't come soon enough. He died two weeks ago still waiting in line.
“That man was waiting well over a year and a half,” Canevari said.
Members of the VFW want to see the government increase Veteran's Affairs staffing, training, and technology. They also point out that the number of veterans waiting for processing is not a valid means of measurement without accounting for the increase in the number of service members seeking help.
Bergstresser advises anyone coming off active duty to get in contact with a service officer as soon as possible. Any condition found within one year of discharge will likely be determined as service connected.