JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An Action News investigation reveals local veterans are left waiting months, even years, to receive disability benefits from the Veterans Administration.
Ralph Wilson proudly served in the United States Navy said, "I would have stayed in, I loved it, from the minute I joined.
Wilson, like thousands of other veterans are waiting for his claim with the VA to be processed. Wilson says his 10 years of in the Navy ended with a service-related knee injury.
"They told me I couldn't re-enlist. I was devastated, I was on shore duty looking forward to going back on a ship and they said I was ineligible, I was crushed," said Wilson.
Action News learned 49 percent of disability claims to the VA take more than 125 days to process. The average wait time is 154 days. Those numbers are an improvement over last year when the average wait time for a claim to be processed was 213 days.
Rafael Santiago, who works with Jacksonville's Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, says he's seen claims take as long as five years.
"If a veteran files a claim for disability and is denied, he has a right to file a notice of disagreement. N.O.D.'s can take up to two years." said Santiago.
Wilson said he fears he may now lose his home if the VA doesn't answer his call for help.
"I'm stuck in limbo, between a rock and a hard place. I don't want to be another homeless vet, we have too many of those already,” Santiago said.
Action News received a statement from the Congressman Ander Crenshaw, it says:
“Veterans in Northeast Florida and across the nation have put their lives on the line so that we may live in freedom. Bottom line: They deserve timely access to health care, disability, and housing and other benefits that they have earned and deserve. Poor performance and unwarranted delays in receiving care and these accessing benefits are unacceptable. My focus remains on eliminating them and keeping the doors of communication with our veterans wide open in the process.
“Clearly, the VA has got some ground to cover when it comes to health care, but Congressional action this year has spotlighted the changes that are needed, and I think we are making some headway. Action along those lines includes my vote to pass the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014. This comprehensive bill that has since been signed into law provides concrete VA reforms and $17 billion dollars to support VA medical centers and deliver veterans timely access to health care. It also provides the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the ability to fire or demote senior VA officials based on performance.
“In the fight quality health care and veterans benefits, fellow Florida Congressman and Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller has taken swift action to change the culture at the VA and made himself readily available to listen to veterans in Northeast Florida and across the nation. Most recently, I joined him Five Star Veterans Center on August 14 for a discussion of veteran issues, including healthcare, employment, education and housing benefits. I joined him for a similar a similar round-table at the Clara White Mission a year earlier in 2013.
“I honor and respect the service that our veterans have provided our nation and strongly encourage those who believe that they need assistance to reach out to my office in Jacksonville, Florida. Doing so will allow us to help facilitate a response from the appropriate federal agency on any question or concern they may have.
"To help local Navy veteran Ralph Wilson in his effort to secure disability and Social Security benefits, my Jacksonville office staff has met with him and secured the necessary privacy paperwork that allows us to reach out the appropriate federal agency on his behalf. To help determine the status of his case, my staff filed detailed paperwork with the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Florida and the local Social Security Administration in Jacksonville on October 17. We will be staying in touch with those offices and Mr. Wilson as his case moves forward.”