• Growing backlog means 433-day wait for Fla. VA benefits


    CENTRAL FLORIDA - Eyewitness News discovered there's a growing backlog of Florida veterans waiting to get disability benefits.

    In Florida, the average time it takes first-time filers to get benefits is 433 days.

    Advocates said that is too long for a veteran's life to be up in the air.

    Channel 9's Lori Brown asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs why service members have to fight this battle at home.

    Ronald Amador, an Army combat medic veteran for the 82nd Airborne Division, said memories of what he saw in Iraq and Afganistan still haunt him.

    "Sometimes when you're in the hole, you don't see the light for a long, long time," Amador said.

    When he returned, his psychological evaluation showed serious impairment due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

    His claim for benefits was initially denied. Without help, his life spiraled out of control.

    The former college professor attempted suicide twice and nearly became homeless.

    "Rock bottom for me was accepting that I didn't have a future. That I was alone, and there was no one there who could help," Amador said.

    Christie Bhageloe, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Inc., said it is insulting veterans have to wait so long.

    "They're waiting on these benefits, which they earned through their service," Bhageloe said.

    Florida has one of the worst backlogs in the country, due in part to its high concentrations of veterans.

    There is only one regional office in the entire state.

    Bhageloe helped Amador finally get his benefits approved, but she said she worries about the 50,000 other Florida veterans still waiting for theirs.

    "There's really no excuse for that," Bhageloe said.

    A spokesperson with Veterans Affairs said rather than create additional offices in Florida, the VA is working to process claims more efficiently by developing a paperless system.

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