If you’re a Northern California veteran who has waited a year for a decision on a war-related disability claim, you might consider a move to South Dakota – where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs typically responds in less than half the time.
Returning home from Afghanistan to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta? Veterans who live in Lincoln, Neb., and Fargo, N.D., get their benefits faster.
The geographic inequity of VA wait times is fully detailed for the first time in an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Simply put: Veterans in sparsely populated states often encounter quick resolution of their compensation claims for problems ranging from back injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder while those in metropolitan areas languish.
In California, veterans who file claims with any of the VA’s three regional offices – in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego – wait more than nine months on average.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Adam Fields, a former Marine from Modesto, who has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
During his two tours in Iraq, Fields said he survived multiple vehicle rollovers and sustained three concussions, which have contributed to persistent short-term memory loss.
“Sometimes I get in the car, and I forget where I’m going,” said Fields, who supports his wife and 5-year-old son by driving a scrap metal truck in Stockton, two hours from the closest VA hospital.
“If the VA approved my claim, I could afford to take time off to get regular treatment,” he said.