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VA: Relief On The Way To End Backlog Of Veterans Still Seeking Disability Benefits

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- They served our country and then are told to wait for government benefits. A massive backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs has had some waiting for years.

But as CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, with Memorial Day fast approaching, there appears to be some relief in sight.

Robert Wright served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam. He watched planes drop Agent Orange on forests and crops. Now, 45 years later, he's diagnosed with diabetes and nerve damage. But when he filed for Veterans Disability benefits, he was told, he'd have to wait.

"Every few weeks they said 'We're working on it. You're in the pile,' I guess," Wright said. "It would be one to three years to hear back from the military."

He's not alone. There is a huge backlog. More than 873,000 veterans are waiting for claim decisions. The reason: an antiquated paper filing system; plus a flood of new claims from Vietnam vets who are getting older.

"They need every piece of help we can [give]. That was our promise to them -- you serve our country, we will be there for you," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.).

The backlog has prompted McCarthy to sponsor a package of bills that would help the VA modernize and move claims along faster.

"They're doing their best, but it's not acceptable for our veterans," McCarthy said.

Just this week, Veterans Affairs announced a goal of ending the backlog within two years, saying, "Veterans are waiting too long for earned benefits. That has never been acceptable and we have an aggressive plan in place to end the backlog in 2015."

The VA plans to prioritize the oldest claims, pay overtime for claims processors and finally end paper processing.

"The Army says hurry up and wait, so hopefully these boys don't have to hurry up and wait like years past," Robert Wright said.

"People don't have the resources to wait," added Regina Wright, Robert's wife.

After a year and a half, and the help of Rep. McCarthy, Robert Wright is now finally collecting disability benefits. The congresswoman said until the system is fixed, veterans should seek help from their members of Congress to prod the system along.

There are 22 million living American veterans, and over the last four years, more than 4 million disability claims were processed, officials said.

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