by: Rachel Stockman Updated:
ATLANTA - Thousands of veterans in Georgia are growing frustrated dealing with an enormous backlog to get disability benefits.
"It's been a rough 27 years," explained Sharon Barber.
Barber says she's been fighting to increase her veteran disability benefits since she was honorably discharged from the military in 1986. She says some of her medical records somehow disappeared from the VA Hospital.
"They destroyed my life, financially and physically," Barber told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman.
Barber says the VA finally found her records last year, but she is still caught up in the appeals process.
She is one of many veterans who have told Channel 2 Action News they are growing frustrated with how long it takes to process their disability claim.
"You call in. You cannot get anybody. You cannot leave an email because their box is full," said Richard Leder, who is also a veteran.
Channel 2 dug into the numbers and discovered that in the Atlanta Regional Office alone, they have more than 30,000 pending claims, one of the highest numbers in the country. An average claim takes about a year to complete, according to a government report from this week.
"Atlanta is overwhelmed," said Drew Early, an attorney who specializes in veterans' disability benefits. He says it is very difficult for veterans to navigate all of the rules and paperwork associated with filing one of these claims.
"What I see on a daily basis is very poorly-processed claims from very deserving people who cannot go up against the second largest cabinet agency in the U.S. government," explained Early.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is pledging to fix the problem by 2015. The administration is implementing a new paperless system, and fast-tracking claims older than one year.
"This plan will ensure we achieve the secretary's goal– claim completion in 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015. Fixing this decades-old problem isn't easy, but we have an aggressive plan that is on track to succeed," according to a statement released by a spokesperson from the Department of Veterans Affairs when Stockman asked them about the backlog.
But veterans told Channel 2 that they do not want to wait any longer.
"This is how they decided to thank me for serving this country," Barber said.