AP: New vets' disability claim rate soars

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America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, laying claim to becoming the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen, according to The Associated Press analysis of federal records and interviews with doctors, government officials and former troops.

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking compensation for service-related injuries, according to Department of Veterans Affairs records. In comparison, 21 percent of Gulf War veterans filed such claims, top government officials said.

The new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average -- even more by the recent ones over the past year, who claim 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and the Korean War, just two.

It's unclear how much worse off these new veterans are. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims: the weak economy, higher wound-survival rate, more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD, and aggressive outreach efforts. Veterans Affairs has details on only current disability claims being paid.

Almost one-third have been granted disability so far. Each claim must be evaluated to see whether it's war-related.

Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged -- older than 125 days.

The VA is streamlining and going to electronic records, said Allison Hickey, the department's undersecretary for benefits. But for now, she said, "We have 4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly."

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