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Department of Veterans Affairs reports progress on backlog of claims in Roanoke

By Joe Dashiell, jdashiell@wdbj7.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 04:01:16 AM EST
Updated On: Aug 22 2013 11:40:02 PM EDT

Virginia Senator Mark Warner says more help is on the way for veterans, whose disability claims have been caught up in a major backlog of cases.

ROANOKE, Va. -

A typical case file was stacked high on the desk, when Senator Mark Warner visited the Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday.  Justin Roberts demonstrated the electronic records system that is allowing the department to review claims more quickly.

"And I can see that the word Parkinson's came up 93 times in this one document," Roberts explained.

Since October 1st, the Roanoke Regional Office has reduced the number of veterans waiting for decisions on their claims by 20 percent.

"We're not declaring victory," Warner told reporters during a news conference, "but it's a sign of progress."

Warner and leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs also welcomed the College of William & Mary Law School  to a new program that will expedite the processing of claims.  The school's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic will help Virginia veterans submit Fully Developed Claims, a process that should reduce the time it takes for the department to render a decision on many disability compensation claims.

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Change cannot come quickly enough for veterans who are still waiting.

Christine Sweeney spent 4 years in the Air Force and another year in the Army.
More than three decades later, the Salem resident is still dealing with the emotional trauma from a sexual assault.

She says a claim she filed in 2011 has been languishing with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"It's just so frustrating," Sweeney told WDBJ7 on Thursday morning. "It's like my life is on hold until I know what happens with my claim. And I'm ready to move forward."

Sweeney said she's skeptical that changes announced Thursday will make a difference.  She said she feels like she's fighting a losing battle by herself.

Warner said he plans to keep a close eye on the agency, to make sure the progress continues.  "Sometimes large organizations are pretty slow at moving and I think we've lit a fire though," Warner told reporters, "and this is a model that hopefully we'll replicate across the country."