United States Sen. Chris Murphy released data Friday about veterans and their spouses who have died before receiving benefits they were owed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nationwide, in 2012, 2,985 veterans and 974 surviving spouses died while a disability compensation or pension claim was pending.
In those cases, if a veteran or surviving spouse dies before the claim is processed, the VA can't pay out any of the benefits the family is rightly owed.
"It's absolutely unacceptable that people are dying while waiting for the backlog to clear," Murphy said. "The numbers we found were actually stunning. Literally thousands of veterans and their spouses have died while waiting for the benefits they earned."
The delay in veterans and their spouses receiving benefits is a result of the VA backlog, which is an issue that has caused about two-thirds of veterans who are owed compensation and pension claims to wait more than 125 days for claims to be processed.
"We need to renew the conversation with the VA about workable solutions to fix this disaster. Moving forward, we need to prioritize claims for frail vets and spouses who have been waiting for far too long for the benefits they've earned," Murphy said.
Murphy said his office has dealt with a number of cases relating to the issue, including Pat Moores, whose mother, Lucille Cleary, of Farmington, died while waiting for spouse benefits from the VA.
"It was age, low income, health. It was all the parameters that she fit into for this benefit and she should have gotten it," Moores said. "It shouldn't have been so difficult."
Cleary waited nearly 17 months, almost 500 days for an initial decision to be made on her claim for benefits owed from her husband's military service.
Murphy said she did start to receive some of the money she was owed, but passed away before getting the money she was owed during the time she was waiting for the decision.
That amount totaled $18,000, which is money the VA can't give to Clearly's family.
"People like Lucy Clearly deserve better," Murphy said.
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