An Air Force veteran injured on active duty has spent nearly 20 years fighting for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tony Carothers said he was injured when he fell off a ladder during training with the Secret Service in 1995.
He was honorably discharged in 1996, and applied for benefits with the VA, but said he quickly became frustrated with the process.
"It was very clear I was nothing more than a number," said Carothers.
Carothers said VA employees told him there was no record of his initial application, so he had to re-apply.
"2008 is the first time they officially denied me medical benefits," said Carothers. "That was 12 years later."
Carothers said he applied close to a dozen times before finally receiving a 20 percent disability benefit in December 2016.
A spokesperson for the VA said the agency can't talk about Carothers' case specifically because of privacy concerns.
According to the agency, the average time a veteran waits for a decision on a disability claim is currently 119 days, which is down from 348 days in 2013.
Carothers realizes his case is likely an outlier, but believes the agency needs to work to improve its processes.
"The amount of deployments we've had over the last 12 and 15 years, has put a burden on the veterans that's never existed before. And in my opinion, the VA is not there to handle the burden that's coming," said Carothers.
The VA came under the microscope in 2014, after an internal audit found "systemic problems" with the agency's policies and procedures.
The findings led to the resignation of the agency's top administrator, and an overhaul of the VA's policies and procedures.
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