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Our View: Failing our injured vets

It’s the least we can do.

When we send soldiers off to war, the bare minimum of thanks we can give when they return is to provide care for those injured in battle.

That’s not happening.

Nearly 900,000 veterans are waiting for their disability claims to be processed and rated with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. More than 600,000 veterans have waited longer than 125 days for their disability compensation.

The numbers are worse locally. More than 82 percent of disability claims in the Chicago office have been backlogged for longer than 125 days. On average, the Chicago office takes 380 days to process a claim.

To compare, the Social Security Administration estimates that it takes three to five months to process an initial application for disability benefits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has said budget cuts, an antiquated processing system, and increased demand – a 200 percent increase over the past 10 years in original claims covering eight or more medical issues – as reasons for the backlog.

These are excuses. The federal government started sending troops to two wars more than a decade ago: Department of Defense data show about 2.5 million military members have been deployed since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

That’s when planning for the inevitable outcomes of battle should have begun.

Soldiers should not pay the price for the shortsightedness of bureaucrats – many of whom likely don’t know what it’s like to put their life on the line for their country, much less suffer lifelong consequences that often come with war.

The VA has set a goal to eliminate the backlog by 2015, and plans to establish a digital, paperless processing system for the VA’s 56 regional offices by the end of 2013.

It should be more than a goal. It should be a promise.

And given the sacrifices that soldiers deployed to war are asked to make on behalf of all of us, it’s one promise we must keep.

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