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.