Sent: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 11:10 PM
Subject: VA Caught Playing Paper Shuffle Games

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From: National Security Archive <archive@GWU.EDU>
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 02:19:54 +0000

VA Takes Nine Months to Locate Data on Disability Claims by Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
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National Security Archive Update, October 10, 2006

VA Takes Nine Months to Locate Data on Disability Claims by Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Report Indicates that 1 in 4 Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism Claim Disabilities

For more information contact:
Meredith Fuchs/Catherine Nielsen - 202/994-7000

Washington, 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 than560,000 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 on Terrorism."

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."

These documents were posted today on the Web site of the National Security Archive.


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