WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 30, 2012, 10:22 PM

America's newest veterans filing for benefits at historic rate

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Some amazing numbers are coming out of our national VA Hospitals, and we are seeing the trend here.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Some amazing numbers are coming out of our national VA Hospitals, and we are seeing the trend here.

America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate. What's more, these new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are claiming an average of 9 ailments. One reason for the alarming numbers? A more efficient VA that is getting ahead of the problem.

After serving our country in both Gulf Wars, Eric Marts of Moorhead today is one of the biggest supporters and voices for veterans and the benefits they deserve. After suffering traumatic brain injuries and repeated concussions, Eric is now blind. He’s one of nearly 2 million vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with service related injuries.

Eric Marts – Veteran: “More people are surviving compared to past wars. The other thing is education; Vietnam vets have led the way did not get the treatment they needed.”

The numbers are staggering; 45% of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking disability. What's more, they are claiming 8-9 ailments on average, high above those who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Here at the Fargo VA, 1200 vets are awaiting word on a disability request. 371 were processed in Fargo last month. In Minnesota, the claims are up 10% from last year.

Paula Conrad – Fargo VA: “We have a much more educated military force. They’re more aware of benefits and things that are entitled to them. We do a better job educating going in to the service as well as when they get out of the service, so they’re more aware of that.”

Another variable in all this is that we did a better job treating the soldiers in the field of Iraq and Afghanistan, but now those soldiers are now home with critical injuries.

Paula Conrad: “We saw an additional 200 claims in a single month when the Red Bull group was demobilized back into the community.”

The numbers may be so high because the military and the VA are doing a more efficient job of getting soldiers into the system before they even return home. It is more streamlined and seamless, allowing soldiers to get help quicker.

A Harvard economist puts the estimated cost of caring for the soldiers from the recent wars at $600-900 billion. Eric Marts from our story hosts a special veteran's radio show every Saturday morning at 10 on WDAY. It is called "Heroes of the Heartland." Click on the easy link tab for more on the websites available to returning vets.