"I am about to lose my house. It's been a lot. It's been real hard for my family and myself. I wouldn't wish this on anybody. Imagine the depression you would go through, and losing everything you have while you're waiting for someone else to decide your fate."

Friend served in the Army from 1990 to 1999, and filed his disability claim in 2009. He said his health problems were exacerbated when he was in a car accident on his way home from work at Fort Ritchie, a base that has since closed.

Disabled veterans qualify for benefits from both the VA and the Social Security Administration. While the VA benefits have to be tied to military service, Social Security benefits depend on medical documentation that proves a disability, said Brett Buchanan, a claims agent with Allsup, a company that helps individuals file disability claims.

Although the Social Security Administration is facing its own backlog, the agency created its Wounded Warrior program in 2005 to speed up processing time for disability claims submitted by veterans. Applications submitted by servicemen and servicewomen injured on duty since 2001 are flagged by the agency and expedited.

Receiving Social Security disability benefits can take years for many people. That agency denies more cases than it approves after initial reviews, but specific data on how veterans fare aren't available.

The SSA has processed more than 55,000 disability applications for servicemen and servicewomen since it began tracking the data in 2009.

But experts say a large number of veterans don't even apply for disability.

"Some veterans hole up; they isolate," Buchanan said. "They may not seek medical treatment for the first couple of years. These programs are decided on medical evidence."

Darin Selnick, an Air Force veteran, independent consultant and member of the Concerned Veterans for America's organizing committee, said the situation for disabled veterans will improve only when the public applies enough pressure on the VA, Congress and White House.

Selnick, who held several jobs at the VA, including special assistant to the secretary, said the agency has the ability to fix its accuracy troubles and eliminate the backlog. He suggested that the agency's management needs an overhaul and employees need to be better trained.

"They are poorly led, poorly managed, and the results speak for themselves," Selnick said. "You've got to demand results. You've got to track that progress. What gets measured gets done. And it's not like nobody knows what to do."

Fearing, the Iraq veteran, said that at age 44 he feels like he has to start over, because he has spent the past two decades working in a career he can no longer perform.

If he had the chance, he'd love to talk to the president and VA leaders.

"I would tell them, with all due respect, 'The system is broken. The system is hopelessly broken,'" Fearing said. "It's a crying shame."




Veterans who need help can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.