MADISON (WKOW) -- Both politicians and veterans service professionals are expressing concerns that a new online claims system being initiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could result in longer wait times for Wisconsin veterans seeking benefits.
Don Hartman is no stranger to the claims process veterans have to go through to receive benefits for health problems caused by their military service. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Hartman filed his first claim in 2002.
"It was fairly quick. It was three months or so, four months," Hartman said in describing how long it took to get his claim resolved.
That's because the VA regional office in Milwaukee is regarded as one of the most efficient in the country for processing claims.
But as thousands of veterans returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, other regional offices couldn't carry their own weight. That meant efficient offices like Milwaukee were called upon to help out with the backlog in places like Houston and Los Angeles.
"They received approximately 6,000 claims and the Wisconsin claims were temporarily put on hold," explained Dan Connery, Veterans Service Officer for Dane County.
Local veterans felt the impact right way.
"I got some of them that still haven't been decided that are two years old," said Hartman.
And Connery worries the wait times may not get better if the VA initiates a new system called the National Work Queue.
Under that proposed system, instead of the Milwaukee office handling claims for Wisconsin veterans, they would all be collected electronically and then distributed to regional VA offices across the country.
"It'll be hard to establish those same relationships when you're talking, conceivably, many states away," said Connery, who said his familiarity with the personnel in Milwaukee can help speed things along.
Wisconsin's congressional delegation is concerned about the new system as well.
All eight U.S. House members signed on to a letter sent to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last week, asking him to essentially prove Wisconsin veterans wouldn't face longer wait times under the National Work Queue.
Hartman is not looking forward to extended wait times becoming the new normal.
"This may go on for a year or two, and you know, how much time have I got left?," he asked.
The goal for the VA is to reduce wait times nationwide. They hope to have the new system established by 2015.
MADISON (WKOW) -- Both politicians and veterans service professionals are expressing concerns that a new online claims system being initiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could result in longer wait times for veterans in Wisconsin.
Dan Connery, the Veterans Service Officer for Dane County, says Wisconsin vets have traditionally seen some of the fastest claims processing in the country, because the regional VA office in Milwaukee is one of the most efficient in the country.
But because of a huge backlog of claims in other regional offices around the country, the Milwaukee office has had to take on unprocessed claims from Houston and Los Angeles in recent years. That's caused long delays for Wisconsin veterans, some of whom saw their claims brokered out to the VA office in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Now, the VA is looking at implementing a National Work Queue, which would compile all claims electronically and have them distributed to different regional offices around the country for processing. That means Wisconsin veterans could have their claims being handled in San Diego or Philadelphia.
The goal for the VA is to decrease wait times nationwide. But Connery worries that while the wait times around the country come down, they could continue to increase for veterans here in Wisconsin who are used to efficient service through the Milwaukee office.
Wisconsin's eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives share that concern. Last week, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI-7) authored a letter signed by all 7 other members of the Wisconsin House delegation, asking the VA to explain what steps are being taken the ensure the new National Work Queue won't result in longer wait times for veterans here.
Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann is following this story and will have a full report on 27 News at 6.
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