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Investigation shows Phoenix VA disability claims take almost a year

The Veterans Affairs office in Phoenix has one of the nation's longest average wait times for processing veterans' disability benefits. Jeff Severns Guntzel of the Public Insight Network reports.

JEFF SEVERNS GUNTZEL: VA data examined by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows the average wait for disability claims processing in Phoenix is 360 days. That's the sixth-longest wait of any regional VA office in the country. Nearly 22,000 veterans here are waiting for word on their disability claims. Rich Rudnik is with the National Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit that takes incoming requests from veterans and their families for help navigating the VA.

RICH RUDNICK: Our hands are tied. Getting an answer from the VA about what is going on with a claim is one of the hardest things to do. We get calls from people who say I've been waiting for four months or I filed my claim eight months ago or I've had an appeal in for 10 months and, you know, what's going on?

SEVERNS GUNTZEL: A recent report by the VA's Inspector General provides part of an answer. An inspection of the Phoenix office found "excessive processing errors," "use of inadequate medical examinations" and other issues contributing to the delays. The VA will be piloting a new computer system in 2013 intended to improve both accuracy and the speed of the claims process. It says all regional offices will be using the system by 2015. Currently veterans' benefits claims are handled the old fashioned way -- with paper files moving from desk to desk.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are a veteran working your way through the VA system, or you know somebody who is, we'd like to hear from you. You can share your experiences here.