Chalk one up for the little guy. It took almost 10 years for Air Force veteran Ben Krause to pester, irritate, blog about and generally harass the Department of Veterans Affairs before he got the full disability benefits he deserved from injuries he suffered while in the service.
Now Krause, just a few weeks short of completing his law degree at the University of Minnesota, can claim a part of a larger victory. Last week, the VA announced it was addressing an enormous backlog of disability claims by granting temporary approval for any claim older than a year. VA claims raters will now make provisional decisions on the oldest claims.
About 70 percent of the disability and pension claims awaiting a decision by the VA have lingered past 125 days, the point at which the agency considers them “backlogged.” In 2009, when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki took office, it took an average of 161 days for the VA to make an initial rating decision on a claim. It now takes more than 286 days.
The backlog has been criticized from the halls of Congress to veterans groups. But Krause, who credits a blue-collar bull-doggedness and his legal training for his tenacity, has clearly been one of those making a difference. His blog, www.disabledveterans.org, caught the attention of bureaucrats at the VA, who invited him to Washington.
Last summer Krause testified before the National Democratic Party Platform Committee about veterans issues and the importance of getting the word out through social media. That led to a meeting with VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey in February. She talked to Krause about his website and some of the educational tools he has developed on it. He’s considering postponing his legal career to work on fixing the backlog and then find work in Minnesota, hopefully with a law firm.
“For the past two years I’ve gone to D.C. to hammer the VA and lawmakers about the economic importance of ensuring that America understands the full cost of war,” Krause said. “Part of that means making sure that all veterans get the benefits they were promised and making sure the promise is a square deal.”