Navy vet prepares for new battle: Appealing VA claims decision
Photo: Video by ktnv.com
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A Valley veteran battling for his disability benefits has a new battle ahead of him, the appeal.
Demarcus Lewis, 43, of Las Vegas, served in the U.S. Navy. Model military planes sit in his living. Each plane takes about three weeks to assemble, which is a lot less time than what it took for Lewis to get a decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs on his most recent benefits claim.
"It's horrible because your bills are still stacking up, you're trying to maintain as best as you can," Lewis said.
The Navy vet is one of many veterans from across the region who have turned to Action News over the VA claims backlog.
Lewis has medical complications from his military service. He filed his most recent claim in July, 2012. In October, 2013, Lewis finally got an answer from the VA: some of his requests were approved, some denied.
"It'd be a convenience if my bills stopped if I don't get no money but they don't," Lewis said.
He's not the only one who had to wait. Numbers from the VA's website show more than 56 percent of claims nationwide are more than 125 days old. The statistics are from Nov. 30, 2013.
Despite the frustrations, the agency said it's making progress in tackling the backlog. Just last month, the VA announced that 93 percent of claims nationwide that are over a year old had been completed. In a news release, the agency said mandatory overtime for claims processors could continue in 2014 depending on funding.
While Lewis received an answer on his claim, the wait may not be over. He plans to appeal and is worried he'll be left waiting again.
Numbers from the VA's website show more than 266,000 appeals nationwide are pending as of last week; it's unclear how old they are.
"It's going to be the same thing because right now, I have no faith in the VA," Lewis said.
The VA's regional office in Reno will likely handle Lewis' appeal. In a statement, management analyst Nathanial Miller said the VA is working to improve the appeals process so decisions are completed quickly and accurately.
"While we continue to work appeals as quickly as possible, we know that the numbers will continue to grow because of the many protections that are built into the system for veterans," Miller said in the statement. "There are no easy solutions to short-cut the process."
Rep. Dina Titus sponsored a bill that would include the appeals form with the claims decision, a move her office said would likely speed up the appeals process. The measure passed the House on Oct. 28 but still needs approval from the Senate.
Lewis said he's telling his story for a reason.
"I hope it puts a fire up under them to make them move faster."