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VA backlog forcing Iraq, Afghanistan vets to wait for treatment

http://www.freep.com/news/statewire/sw106869_20041108.htm

November 8, 2004

DETROIT (AP) -- Thousands of veterans in Michigan are on waiting lists for

medical services and disability claims provided by the U.S. Department of

Veterans Affairs.

Some reservists returning from Iraq say that, despite being promised two

years of VA-paid medical service upon their discharge, they are not

receiving it or have been told their cases have been deferred for months.

The VA averages 160 days to process claims, longer than its goal of 100

days and far beyond the 60 to 90 days veterans are promised. The agency

says the average wait in the Detroit area has been cut by 50 days over the

past year to 111 days. But veterans dispute that assessment and say they

sometimes wait six months for necessary treatment and services.

"I'm very frustrated I can't get the treatment I need," said Nathaniel

Ganzeveld, 22, of Dearborn, a discharged lance corporal in the Marine

Reserves who fought in Iraq. Ganzeveld, who suffers from post-traumatic

stress disorder, said he has waited nearly six months just to hear what the

VA will do to help him with anything beyond weekly psychiatric counseling.

"Right now, they gave him some help for the post-traumatic stress

disorder," said Phil Smith, director of veterans and family services in

Michigan for the Vietnam Veterans of America. "But all of his other issues

are deferred -- sleep apnea, insomnia, physical dysfunction, memory loss,

headaches, his back."

Ganzeveld told The Detroit News for a Monday story that he cannot work and

his condition has put pressure on his marriage and family.

"I still have headaches. I can't sleep," Ganzeveld said. "Phil (Smith) and

I have to chase them down now, to say "Why are you deferring me on

everything?"'

Nationally, 334,611 veterans were awaiting approval of benefits as of the

end of October, according to VA statistics. In metropolitan Detroit, the

backlog of claims numbered 6,984, with 1,400 new cases being filed each month.

About 33,500 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already

received treatment. The numbers are expected to increase in 2005 as more

soldiers finish their tours in Iraq.

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