DC, October 10, 2006 - One in four
veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are filing disability
claims, according to records released by the U.S. Department
of Veterans' Affairs (VA) under the Freedom of Information Act
after nine months of denying their existence and posted today
on the National Security Archive Web site.
The VA responded to the Archive's original January 2006 FOIA
request for documents about the number of disability benefits
claims filed by veterans from the current war in Iraq by claiming
that no documents existed, apparently because the reports concern
the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) rather than being limited
to the Iraq War. Notably, one
of the reports indicates that GWOT is the "military
name for the current wars in and around Afghanistan and Iraq."
A similar report was released in December 2005 detailing Gulf
War veterans' benefit activity. An updated
copy of this report was released in March 2006.
Only after the Archive administratively appealed the VA's "no
documents" claims and advised the VA that it was prepared
to file a lawsuit did the agency manage to locate the records.
One is a January 30, 2006, document: "Compensation
and Pension Benefit Activity Among 464,144 Veterans Deployed
to the Global War on Terror." It reports that
more than 150,000 deployed Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) veterans, out of more than
560,000 veterans of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), filed
disability compensation and pension benefits claims with the
Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). The other is a July
20, 2006, document: "Compensation
and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War
Veterans' groups have criticized the VA for using emergency
appropriations to fund veterans' benefits rather than realistically
planning and budgeting for the veterans' needs. According to
Veterans for America, the newly released
data suggests official estimates dramatically understate the
future cost of the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. If the
current trend continues, then VA could receive as many as 400,000
disability claims from the 1.6 million deployed active duty
and reserve service members in the Global War on Terrorism.
Jonathan Powers, Associate Director of Veterans for America
and an Iraq War veteran, warned, "VA already has a backlog,
and the claims process is only going to get worse unless VA
takes action now. VA has no plan or funding to process and pay
existing and future claims to ensure our veterans promptly receive
the disability benefits and healthcare care they earned."
In its most recent FOIA
Annual Report, the VA purported to process 1.9
million FOIA requests during FY 2005, with a median processing
time of 11 days. Meredith Fuchs, the Archive's General Counsel,
expressed dismay at how the FOIA request was handled: "For
the agency to take nine months to 'find' information that is
of clear current public interest in the context of the ongoing
Global War on Terrorism is astounding. It is one thing for VA
to be reluctant to deliver bad news, but another thing entirely
to deny the existence of the information."
The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
1: VBA report, "Gulf War Veterans Information
System, (GWVIS) February 2006," Release Date March 31,
report, "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among
464,144 Veterans Deployed to the Global War on Terror,"
January 30, 2006
report, "VBA report, "Compensation and Pension Benefit
Activity Among Veterans Deployed to the Global War on Terrorism,"
July 20, 2006