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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 20th, 2013
06:17 PM ET

Hundreds of thousands of injured veterans wait more than a year for care

More than 600,000 veterans still haven't received the care they were promised when they came home.

Zach McIlwain is one of them. He went to Iraq not once but twice, coming back with a hand injury and PTSD. It has been more than 970 days since he filed his claim, which the Department for Veterans Affairs, or VA, has still not accepted.

"I'm just sinking in quicksand waiting for something to happen," says McIlwain.

The problem with processing benefits claims for veterans has gone from bad to worse under the Obama administration. One VA office in North Carolina had claims stacked so high the building was at risk of collapsing.

A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that since President Obama took office, the number of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits jumped from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 this past December. That's a more than 2,000 percent increase.

The VA says it is going as fast as it can, but two long wars that injured, but didn't kill, so many soldiers have flooded the system.

"We have been now ten years at war where our men and women are ten times more likely to survive than their previous cohorts," says Alison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the VA.

Veterans advocates say anyone could have seen this crisis coming.

"Failing to plan is planning to fail. And the idea that they didn't know this was coming or they need more time -  it's been over ten years and this is absurd," says Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Veteran Zach McIlwain says he is tired of excuses, too. The Iraq war vet says he and his comrades fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan honorably, only to return home and fight again.

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