Disabled veterans must keep waiting in Illinois
Illinois’ wounded veterans will have to wait several months before learning why they’ve received among the lowest disability pay in the country for the past seven decades.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to take, and that really is the truth,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Inspector General Jon Wooditch. “Before the full report is on the street, it would probably be months.”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) called the delay “troubling and disappointing.”
“Our veterans have served their country and have already waited long enough for the answers they deserve,” Obama said in a statement Tuesday evening. On Monday, Obama said he wanted the investigation to last weeks, not months, and expected answers soon.
‘A massive job’
Wooditch defended the length of his agency’s investigation — already two months old — saying that teams of analysts are combing through millions of records, some dating as far back as 1985.
“If we rush to judgment here and make a hasty conclusion and it turns out there were other factors involved that we’ve missed, then the report really isn’t that valuable to anybody,” Wooditch said.
At least one veterans representative called the delay reasonable. Randy Bunting, Chicago supervisor for the Disabled American Veterans office, which helps veterans file their disability claims, characterized the IG’s probe as “a gigantic undertaking.”
“They have thousands upon thousands of records to sift through. That’s a massive job,” Bunting said. “The inspector general’s study could possibly do some good, but it will be up to the VA whether they act on its findings.”
The VA inspector general was asked to investigate the disability disparity in mid-December after a Sun-Times series revealed veterans here have been shortchanged by as much as $5,000 per veteran per year compared to veterans in other states and Puerto Rico. The disparity dates back to 1934.
Illinois’ congressional delegation initially gave the VA a deadline of Jan. 5 to answer why there was such a gap in pay. The inspector general’s office said it couldn’t meet that deadline but never said when it might be done.
“We know everybody out there is waiting for results,” Wooditch said. “We’re doing it as quickly as we can.”
Although the inspector general’s office has never investigated disparity in disability nationwide, it has learned that over the past 30 years other entities, including the VA, have examined the problem, Wooditch said. His office is trying to track down these reports.
“To this day, they (the VA) still haven’t been able to fully explain the disparity,” said Wooditch, “or come up with any remedies to fix it, if in fact, it even is a problem.”