By Jaclyn Petruzzelli

 At the end of 2012, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) announced that its disability claims backlog had surpassed the 900,000 mark, nearly 25,000 backlogged claims more than there had been at the beginning of 2012. Claimants, who wait an average of 262 days for a claim to be processed, are obviously frustrated, as is the VA. With more veterans (1) returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, (2) recognizing medical conditions resulting from exposure to Agent Orange or living conditions during the Gulf War, and (3) responding to increased outreach efforts, the number of claims filed continues to outpace the Department’s ability to process them. The VA calls the number of backlogged claims “unacceptable,” and has vowed to fix the problem by 2015. But how?

 The Texas Veterans Commission has addressed the growing backlog problem by hosting “Beating the VA Backlog” events. These events give veterans the opportunity to sit down with counselors who are able to assist the veterans in submitting information necessary for a claim to be processed. Thus far, the teams charged with running these events have reviewed more than 10,000 claims. Veterans Service Organizations in different regions of the country have likewise been making localized efforts to ameliorate the backlog.

In an effort to address the issue nationwide, the VA recently announced it would be implementing the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) in all 56 regional offices. VBMS is an electronic claims processing system that is not only expected to make the process of filing claims easier for the veteran and more efficient for the VA, but also will include automated tools that are expected to result in more consistent rating decisions. The VA is confident that the implementation of this system will allow the Department to reach its goal of eliminating the backlog problems by 2015.

By: Bryan Charles Moore

On January 15, 2013, retail giant Wal-Mart announced plans to hire any eligible returning veteran who is interested in working for the company. According to the CEO of Wal-Mart, Bill Simon, the company expects to hire over 100,000 veterans throughout the span of the next five years.[1] During the press conference, Simon went on to say, “Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They’re quick leaders and they’re team players.” As such, it appears that Wal-Mart sees some of the quality traits that veterans of the United States military possess and are extensively trained to exhibit and hopes to be able to utilize those same traits in their day-to-day operations.

According to information released thus far, Wal-Mart plans to offer jobs at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, the company’s headquarters, and related offices to qualifying veterans beginning this upcoming Memorial Day. In order to be offered a position, a veteran must have been honorably discharged and must be within their first twelve months off of active-duty. Unemployment following deployment has been a real concern for many veterans. Statistics indicate that the unemployment rate for current-conflict veterans, or those who have served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, has been measured at 10.8%, which is significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 7.8%.[2] As such, many employment agencies see this forthcoming policy from Wal-Mart as a beneficial tool that may be able to help returning veterans find jobs in a sluggish economy.

However, not all responses to the newly proposed plan have been positive. Wal-Mart has had its fair share of critics on its way to becoming such a successful corporation. Many critics have been quite outspoken in denouncing specific company policies. In response to this proposal, advocates have suggested that Wal-Mart may only hire veterans for part-time work schedules and that Wal-Mart will benefit from the tax incentives of hiring returning veterans.[3] As many of the details have yet to be realized and the program has yet to begin, this is primarily speculation based on prior impressions of Wal-Mart and their policies.

At the very least, this announcement suggests there will be some relief for returning veterans in regards to job availability. However, the extent of this relief is yet to be fully determined. First Lady Michelle Obama has expressed enthusiasm in the initiative as well as in working with Wal-Mart and other businesses to encourage employment of America’s veterans. After calling Wal-Mart’s plan “historic,” the First Lady said, “We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home. Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.” Of course, that sentiment is something this author agrees with whole-heartedly.