More than 6,000 Iowa veterans are waiting on claims they've filed with the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
These are claims of pension and compensation for injuries suffered during service.
Workload numbers published by the US Department of Veterans Affairs show that of the approximately 900,000 pending claims across the US, 70 percent have been pending for more than four months.
That means hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking pension or compensation for service-related injuries, ranging from arthritis and cancer to post traumatic stress disorder, have no other option but to wait.
Veteran Doug Slaats served in the US Army for more than 20 years. After retiring, he filed a claim of compensation for some arthritis and joint injuries he said he sustained during his service.
"I filed that in September of 2010," he said. "My claim has been ongoing. I just received my first compensation benefit claim about that in 2013, February."
His situation is not unique. Approximately 900,000 veterans across the nation are also waiting on claims for compensation and/or pension.
Charlie Brimeyer is the executive director of the Dubuque County Veterans Affairs office and said the VA system has a shortage of people who rate the claims.
"The backlog nationwide is atrocious," he said. "Hurts the process. Makes us look bad. Makes the VA look worse, and they need to hire more people to do the work."
The more than 6,000 Iowa claims will only see more join them, Brimeyer said.
Consider that living veterans of peace time plus all American wars are filing these claims. As the US Department of Veterans Affairs continues to add conditions to its list of recognized service-related injuries, the amount of claims are expected to grow.
For example, the VA has recognized a number of conditions they now say do come from exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical sprayed during the Vietnam War. Many of those Vietnam vets are just now filing claims for medical conditions they have been suffering for years.
"No one minds waiting a little while, but when you're waiting two, three years-- I have friends who have waited longer," Slaats said.
Every county in Iowa has a Veterans Affairs Office. Brimeyer said he encourages vets filing a claim to contact their county's office.
The VA now offers what's called a fully developed claim, Brimeyer said, that drastically shortens the response time. It's a claim where the veteran provides more detailed and specific information and paperwork up front, pointing the person who rates the claim to the precise information he or she needs. Brimeyer said one Dubuque County veteran got a response -- including compensation -- in a matter of 10 days.
For a list of Iowa county Veterans Affairs offices, click HERE.
To explore the backlog numbers for each week, published by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, click HERE.
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