WILLIAMSBURG -- The Department of Veterans Affairs contends it is making progress on its benefits claims backlog. It's high time, says one Air force veteran who had to wait more than four times the national average to get his claim acted upon.

'It was just a frustrating time,' said Vietnam vet John Roberts, who had to wait 622 days to get the V.A. to acknowledge that he did indeed serve in Vietnam, was exposed to Agent Orange and as a result is entitled to a ten percent disability rating for his cardiac disease. 'It was not smooth sailing, no, it was just one thing after another,' he said.

Two heart attacks, one stroke and eleven stents later, Roberts is glad to hear that the V.A. is making a dent in the problem. But he thinks the agency could do much better. Its stated goal is to finalize veterans' claims within 125 days, but right now it is falling short, and concluding such cases in 154 days.

'I don't understand,' Roberts said. ' 'We, all veterans I'm speaking of, did our part. Some of us volunteered, some were drafted, but we all went in and did our part. And now I'd fully expect the government to do the part that they promised.

Roberts said he's not sure the V.A. truly wants to resolve the claims. 'The thing I don't like, I heard it on the streets all the time, the Veterans Administration, heir phraseology is, to deny until you die,' he said. 'I don't like that at all.'

The V.A. insists progress is being made, with officials pointing out in testimony on Capitol Hill this week that the backlog, which was at 850,000 cases last year, is down to 275, 000 cases now--a 55 percent improvement.

Still the V.A.'s press secretary admitted there is still a problem. Drew Brookie said in a statement this week, 'Too many veterans still wait too long to get the benefits they earned.'

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