GREENSBORO, NC -- Roughly 7,400 veterans who use the Kernersville, Charlotte and Salisbury Veterans Affairs health care and medical centers are waiting on travel reimbursements, some of which were supposed to have been processed back in July.
UPDATE: As of November 1st, the Salisbury VA offices now say they have begun processing travel vouchers for October. The vouchers will be processed in sequential date order.
The backlog is affecting veterans like Lee, who is reluctant to use his full name because he fears there might be backlash against him for speaking out about the delays.
“I don't know what kind of adverse action might be taken against me,” the Air Force veteran said. “[The VA employees] have a good job. They're not rushing. They don't really care.”
Lee says the VA owes him close to $600 and counting.
The veteran has PTSD from his time serving in the Air Force.
He travels an average of 100 miles round trip, three times a week for therapy. The last travel reimbursement he received was for early July.
He says it's getting harder to dig deeper into his own pockets to make it for his treatments.
“Initially, it was taking them about three to seven days for you to get your pay. And then it started getting longer. And longer. And longer,” Lee said.
Travel vouchers for veterans who use the Kernersville and Charlotte VA Health Care Centers as well as those who visit the Salisbury VA Medical Center are all processed by the same department.
“It's crazy,” Lee said. “Right now I need tires. [The money] would help me get my tires and it would help cover maintenance on my vehicle.”
What’s causing the delay?
According to the VA spokesperson in Salisbury, only two people process the payments.
Keep in mind, between the three regional centers, there are 1,200 to 1,500 claims a day for travel reimbursements, Marlous Black, the VA spokesperson said.
“We have experienced a temporary setback in processing Veteran’s travel vouchers. Our staff is working evening and weekend hours in addition to alternate evening work shifts to maximize our processing capacity for patient beneficiary travel claims payments,” Black said in a statement to 2 Wants 2 Know's Faith Abubey. “Additionally, we are in the process of hiring additional staff and expect to make significant progress toward reducing the timeframe for travel reimbursement. We apologize for the delay and thank Veterans for their patience while we work toward a solution.”
Even with more hires, the VA allows only one person in the system at a time to process the travel reimbursements.
Black says it's an internal guideline in order to keep track of who is doing what in the system -- for audit purposes.
That means, the office will have to figure out how more employees will help alleviate the backlog, which wasn’t a problem before, according to Lee who has been receiving the benefits for years.
Until recently, veterans were paid in cash, right there are at the medical center when they finished their appointments. But that procedure changed.
Now, they have to wait for a check or a deposit into their bank accounts.
Meanwhile, Lee says, whatever the VA workers are doing to clear the backlog, isn't happening fast enough for veterans like him who live on a fixed income.
“I think it's very low-priority for them,” the veteran said.
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