California has the nation’s largest population of military veterans, and 60,000 of them are expected to wait well over a year for federal benefits.
The Veteran’s Administration has blamed delays on a backlog of more than 800,000 claims nationwide that could take up to two years to whittle down. The problem was the focus of a Little Hoover Commission hearing in Sacramento Tuesday on what more California can do to help its veterans.
Keith Boylan, Deputy Secretary of CalVet, said the problem isn't that the state lacks resources, but that it's doing its job too well. "That’s been done so effectively that the number of claims going to the VA are more than they can handle," he said.
The state agency helps servicemen and women reintegrate into civilian life. As part of that mission, Boylan said they readily file claims with the VA for everything from physical injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Boylan told members of the Little Hoover Commission that CalVet can’t make the federal government process benefit claims any faster, but it can make sure any California veterans’ claims are backed up with all the necessary documentation so they don’t get turned back or set aside.
California could also give more money to local governments to increase the ranks of County Veteran Services Officers, such as Tom Splitgerber of San Diego, who testified that many veterans qualify for benefits and don’t know it.
"We still have to find all of those who haven’t applied," Splitgerber said. "It may take two to four years, but at least we’ve reached out to people, we’ve tried to help some people who haven’t been helped."
Four years ago, California passed a law authorizing the state to spend up to $11 million on County Veterans Service Officers. So far, state lawmakers have capped that budget line at $2 million a year.
The Little Hoover Commission is holding a series of hearings to evaluate how California can improve veteran services. The watchdog agency is expected to issue recommendations later this year.