By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
A veterans’ group says it has accumulated 29,000 signatures demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki be fired over persistent delays in processing disability claims.
Concerned Veterans of America sent a petition to President Barack Obama this week maintaining that Veterans Affairs disability claims have increased nearly 2,000 % since he took office in 2009.
Shinseki has been the only veterans affairs secretary under Obama.
In response, the Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged that “too many” veterans have to wait too long for benefits.
“That’s unacceptable, and we are implementing a robust plan to fix the problem,” a statement said.
Claims that have been pending for more than 125 days are said to be backlogged, according to the agency’s web site. There were more than 516,000 pending claims that fit the definition at the end of June, VA figures show. That was more than two thirds of all pending claims at the time.
One reason for the backlog, according to the agency, is that more veterans are seeking claims, including those from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under Shinseki, the VA recognizes for the first time conditions related to Agent Orange exposure, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Gulf War illness, which has led to a nearly a million new claims, it said.
There is also the growing number of claims from World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets who hadn’t applied for medical help until recently.
These reasons have not eased concerns of the veterans’ group.
“Military commanders —given a mission and necessary resources—are not allowed to fail for four years and keep their job. Nor should Secretary Shinseki. His time is up. It’s time for new leadership,” its petition read.
The VA said it is making progress in reducing the backlog, saying it has gone down by nearly 20 % in the past five months. Once it fully digitizes its system, the VA expects that figure to fall further.