Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald told lawmakers on Wednesday that the department is on track to meet two lofty goals set by his predecessor: End the disability claims backlogand veteran homelessness.
But McDonald, in testimony before the veterans' affairs panel of the House Appropriations Committee, offered a laundry list of figures and some projections indicating that whatever victories the VA may achieve in the next year or so, the pieces already are set for the making of another one.
"The cost of fulfilling our obligations to veterans grows over time because veterans demand for service and benefits continues to grow as wars end," he said. "While it's true that the total number of veterans is declining, the number of those seeking care and benefits is increasing dramatically."
The last 14 years of war have seen increasing numbers of today's veterans applying for VA care, which is already striving to meet the care demands of the larger and aging Vietnam veteran population, McDonald said. In 2014, for example, 22 percent of Vietnam veterans received service-connected disability benefits, but that figure is expected to increase.
From 1960 until 2000, he said, about 8.8 percent of America's veterans were seeking VA care. In the last 14 years – since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – the percentage has more than doubled, to 19 percent. In that time not only has the number of claims grown, but the number of medical issues detailed in each claim. In 2009, he said, the VA processed 989,000 claims that included some 2.7 million medical issues.
McDonald projects that in 2017, the VA will process 1.4 million claims detailing nearly 6 million medical problems.