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VA benefits backlog frustrating for veterans

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Retired First Sergeant Linda Daily and retired First Sergeant Jeff Locklear live in Spring Lake with their son, Jeremiah. Retired First Sergeant Linda Daily and retired First Sergeant Jeff Locklear live in Spring Lake with their son, Jeremiah.
Daily spent 20 years in the military and was awarded a Bronze Star, commendation medals and service ribbons. Daily spent 20 years in the military and was awarded a Bronze Star, commendation medals and service ribbons.
Daily now has a huge medical packet to show for her 20 years of service. The packet lists dozens of conditions from worsening chronic back pain to post traumatic stress disorder. Daily now has a huge medical packet to show for her 20 years of service. The packet lists dozens of conditions from worsening chronic back pain to post traumatic stress disorder.
Cheryl Rawls, the Director of VA's Winston-Salem Regional Office, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the biggest factor in the current benefits backlog. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mobley/WFDD Cheryl Rawls, the Director of VA's Winston-Salem Regional Office, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the biggest factor in the current benefits backlog. Photo courtesy Kathryn Mobley/WFDD
SPRING LAKE, N.C. -
Almost a million U.S. veterans are waiting years for benefits they were promised at retirement from the military. The backlog has caused a storm to rage around the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Between the both of us, it's 47 years of military service that lives in this house," said retired 1st Sgt. Jeff Locklear. "Forty-seven years we committed ourselves to the U.S. military and this is what we get."

Locklear and his fiancé, retired 1st Sgt. Linda Daily, say they feel dishonored and disrespected. Daily has been waiting more than a year for her benefits, Locklear more than three years. 

The couple lives in Spring Lake with their son, Jeremiah.

Locklear spent 26 years in the military as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and countless commendation and achievement medals. Daily was deployed to Iraq twice. Her assignments included logistics and the release and storage of weapons and other military equipment. 

"She had some close friends die over there," Locklear said of Daily's time in Iraq.  "And she was in charge of cleaning out vehicles. Body matter, body parts still left in the vehicle."

Daily now has a huge medical packet to show for her 20 years of service. The packet lists dozens of conditions, from worsening chronic back pain to post-traumatic stress disorder.

As for the VA backlog, she said, "Frustrated at first, but more like my last 20 years wasn't even worth it."

Locklear has been able to help Daily through her darkest days because he understands. His list of serious medical conditions includes PTSD as well. 

"We're both waiting. So we're both in the same boat," Locklear said. 

How did things get this bad? Cheryl Rawls, the director of the VA's Winston-Salem Regional Office, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the biggest factor in the current backlog. 

"Two very long wars that involved multiple deployments for most service members, reservists, and Guardsmen and women," Rawls said. 

Other factors contribute to the backlog as well.

"The Secretary (of Veterans Affairs) made the decision several years ago to expand the list of disabilities due to Agent Orange exposure," Rawls said. "VA knew that this change in law would result in an increased backlog of claims as we worked to re-adjudicate claims from veterans previously denied benefits under this category, but it was clearly the right thing to do for veterans."

Rawls said the VA is implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog by 2015. The approval process is being accelerated by the Department of Veterans Affairs to get veterans benefits immediately if eligible, according to Rawls. 

"Talking to vets, they'll tell you once you put that packet in, they best thing you can do for yourself is go fishing," Locklear said. "Fishing. Go fishing because there's nothing else you can do."

 

 

Pam Saulsby

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