An overload in filing has lead to a backlog in veteran's benefits claims, leading to vets waiting nationally, statewide and in Horry County for an answer.
"I'm going to wait patiently and see what they have to offer," first time filer Henry Stevens said Thursday. He had been waiting for more than 45 minutes to see someone at the Horry County Veteran Affairs office.
His wife joked with us off camera they were so patient probably because it was their first time here.
The National Inventory of rating related claims is 873,439 claims. Of those, the backlog (greater than 125 days old) is 572,243 claims, or 66%. On a local scale, as of Thursday, the Columbia VA Regional Office has a total Inventory of 24,214 claims, of which 15,615 are over 125 days old, or 64%, according to Woody Middleton, Assistant Director of the Columbia VA Regional Office.
Part of the reason for the backlog is in 2009 the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released three new presumptive diseases to Agent Orange exposure: Parkinson's, leukemia and heart disease. Those diseases added in another 400,000 claims nationwide, with some of those from veterans who hadn't served in a number of years.
"Monday we had some 40 or 50 people, many times in lines because they were waiting so long," Horry County Veteran Affairs officer Wendell Allen said.
Since January 2012, more than 4,500 veterans have filed claims through Allen's office. The average wait time for veterans, he says is three and a half to four hours.
Some efforts are being made to solve the problem. Middleton says the state office hired more claims examiners. He adds though, it will take time as there is a learning and training curve for new employees. There are also new national initiatives that have simplified the claims process and allowed for more timely completion of claims.
Horry County has also budgeted for Allen to hire another employee in his office to lower the wait times. He says they are in the process of interviewing now.