Hundreds of thousands of veterans spurn free benefits

By:  Bill Briggs

Nearly half of eligible ex-service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are snubbing free, federal health care they earned in uniform because many harbor “huge mistrust” of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, contends a leading veterans advocacy group.

About 1.5 million men and women who served in those wars have since separated from the U.S. military. Among those eligible to access VA medical help, only 55 percent of veterans have done so through the third quarter of 2012, VA figures show.

“It’s because the VA has a branding problem, an image problem,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA), which has more than 200,000 members.

For many younger veterans, Tarantino said, the issue that has most sullied the VA’s reputation is the average time it takes to complete the disability-compensation claims submitted by wounded veterans. The average wait for that money has grown to 272.3 days, or about nine months, a 10-day increase from early December, according a federal website.

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