On Monday, some veterans organizations in Springfield said veterans are waiting an average of two years for their benefits from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Springfield Department of Veterans' Services Director Thomas M. Belton Sr. said older veterans, especially those who served in Korea and Vietnam, were waiting the longest.
He said everyone has been focusing on the healthcare side of the VA but nobody has talked about sometimes massive delays in benefits for wounded and disabled veterans.
Unlike other states, Massachusetts has a program called Chapter 115. Tens of millions of dollars in state funds are set aside each year to help veterans while waiting for their federal benefits. Veterans have to meet certain criteria to qualify for the program. Belton said the state is spending millions of dollars it doesn't have to because the VA is taking too long to process claims.
Kimberly Babin, the director of Veterans' Services in Chicopee, had a different take on the VA. She said she has noticed better service and faster wait times in the past five years. There are new forms and online services meant to speed up the process. She said her office has been very successful helping veterans get benefits in a timely fashion.
A representative from the VA acknowledged there were some claims that can take a while, especially if they were complex. He also noted appeals can take several years in some cases. Overall, he said the system was getting better and faster.
At the Western Massachusetts Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center in Springfield, Executive Director Gumersindo Gomez said he sees more problems every day. Not every community can afford Chapter 115 programs, so veterans are moving to larger communities to get help while waiting for VA benefits.
Gomez said there needs to be a leadership change and more people that care about veterans working at the VA. He said, "Something needs to change, and it needs to change quick."
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