WASHINGTON — If there's one thing veterans know about, it's waiting. And now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, they've had to wait some more.
The Department of Veterans Affairs backlog on crucial "Compensation and Pensions" exams has nearly tripled over the past year. The C&P exam is a medical examination that determines a veteran's level of service-connected disability. The VA gathers evidence on a veteran's claimed condition before issuing a decision and assigning a rating.
It is a critical step in a vet gaining access to the financial benefits he or she earned while in uniform.
"I'm running into a time crisis, as far as I'm concerned," said Navy and Marine Corps veteran Dave Cheslak. "I want to be able to get everything squared away for my wife before anything happens to me. And a delay of this nature, it's not right."
And, things have gone from bad to worse.
In January of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs had a 125-day wait backlog on C&P exams of 77,000 cases.
By this February, the backlog had grown to 212,000 cases: a 275 percent increase.
"When C&P exams are held up, the entire process of granting benefits to a veteran is also held up," said Marty Callaghan of the American Legion. "And any potential benefits payments are delayed."
Added Kristina Keenan of the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "These delays are adding to the ever-growing backlog of disability claims increasingly prolong veterans from receiving their benefits."
House Armed Services Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee Chairperson Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va., 2nd District) organized Monday's virtual gathering. She said she intends to speak directly to new V.A. Secretary Denis McDonough about the problem.
"I'm really looking forward to having the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs come before the committee and get some bottom-line answers, like, what do you need? What do you need from Congress to get the right workforce, the right number of people, and be able to cut into this?" she said.
There is much taxpayer money at stake. This year, the VA will spend $133.8 billion on C&P benefits, a more than 7 percent increase over 2020.