IAVA Veterans Call on the President to End the Veterans Affairs Disability Benefits Backlog

Moses Maddox, a resident of Vista, California, and a veteran of Iraq, is participating in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s annual “Storm the Hill” advocacy effort March 18th – 22nd with 44 other veteran leaders who are working on the ground in Washington, D.C., and in their local communities to end the disability benefits backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, IAVA is calling on the country to sign a petition to commit to ending the VA disability benefits backlog. IAVA will deliver the petition to President Obama at the White House on Wednesday March 20th.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, citing documents authenticated by the VA, reported that the number of veterans waiting for benefits will exceed one million by the end of March 2013. The report also found that the number of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits has grown by a shocking 2,000 percent, from 10,000 in January 2009 to 243,000 in December 2012. Veterans in urban centers like New York and Los Angeles are waiting over 600 days for a decision. Further, despite the VA’s claim that 3,300 new disability benefits processors have been hired to reduce the benefits backlog, staff turnover leaves the total increase in processors at only 300 new processors since September 2010.

“I know other veterans have struggled to get the help they need from the VA, but my experience was positive. I know the system can work and I am part of Storm the Hill because I want to hold the VA accountable for the good results I know it is capable of delivering,” Maddox said.

Maddox is a veteran of the Marine Corps with tours served in Iraq. He left the Marines in 2006 and immediately enrolled in a local community college under the GI Bill. With PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, he found the transition rough. Getting treatment at the VA was difficult, but Maddox overcame his invisible injuries and made Dean’s List. He was vice president of his school’s veterans club and is now Veterans Supervisor at a local college, helping other student veterans receive their benefits. Maddox works at The Mission Continues and will earn his BA in Social Sciences in May.

Storm the Hill is IAVA’s signature advocacy and leadership program that brings the stories of the more than 2.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Washington. They will also focus on suicide, veteran unemployment, GI Bill reforms and women’s care. They will meet with over 100 members of congress, the VA, the Department of Defense and the White House.

This year, Storm the Hill puts 45 veteran fellows through the IAVA leadership fellows program. These veterans represent 22 states and four branches of service. The fellows were trained on local and national advocacy techniques, organizing principles and media basics. Twenty-eight veterans are in Washington, D.C., to advocate in the halls of Congress, at the White House and at the VA. Another 17 veterans from across America, including Maddox, have been trained to do grassroots organizing in their local communities to apply pressure on the country from their hometowns. Together, these veterans are rallying the nation to end the disability benefits backlog once and for all.

“Veterans are returning from war to another battle at home – the fight for VA benefits they deserve,” IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said. “Disability benefits fill the gaps in loss of earnings potential and quality of life caused by injuries sustained during military service. Long wait times have a devastating impact on veterans and their families as they work to successfully transition to civilian life. We need to show these men and women who we are as a country. We must utilize all the resources and ingenuity that America has to offer to end the backlog and keep the promise we made to the millions of veterans who have sacrificed to defend our nation.”

Following Storm the Hill, these 45 veteran leaders will continue in a yearlong fellowship program that offers opportunities to organize local events, speak on behalf of the veterans community in the media and spearhead annual campaigns by activating their networks through social media platforms.

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