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Roundtable: Vets Want Benefits, State Wants New Fees, Lindbergh Wants Air Traffic

Rob Davis, a reporter for Voice of San Diego, talks to KPBS about his story on the airport expansion.


Rick Rogers,

Michael Smolens, UT San Diego

Rob Davis, Voice of San Diego


San Diego Vets Face Long Waits on Benefit Decisions: A report from the Center for Investigative Reporting says that of nearly 30,000 pending war-related disability claims in San Diego this month, 65 percent of them were pending for more than 125 days. This means San Diego veterans waited an average of 291 days for a decision. Appeals typically take 3.5 years for an answer.

Claims filed in any of California’s three regional offices – Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego – take more than nine months on average. The waiting time is getting longer nationwide, in spite of a promise by the Department of Veterans Affairs to eliminate the backlog of pending cases by 2015.

Disability claims are now handled by the Veterans Administration. The computer systems of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA are incompatible, so the majority of claims are still in paper folders. A new $300 million computer system, not available yet in California, is being installed, and 3,300 additional claims processors have been added. Still, nationwide, the VA took an average of eight months to process a claim in June 2012, 50 percent longer than the year before.

Other reasons for the intransigent backlog may be that claims processors suddenly had to turn their attention to processing Agent Orange claims from the Vietnam War. And because of the number and types of injuries the military suffer in Iraq and Afghanistan, claims are far more complex than in the past.

New State Regs, Fees: As the legislative session grinds to a close this week, a flurry of bills headed to the governor's desk. AB 1248, a bill from San Diego Assemblyman Ben Hueso, specifically requires the city of San Diego to provide pension coverage under Social Security to all city employees not covered under a defined benefit plan.

State legislators proposed raising fees in many cases, such as on sales of mattresses, prescriptions and wood fencing, as well as on boat registration. State Senator Christine Kehoe has proposed extending fees and taxes due to expire – vehicle registration and tire sales surcharges – to fund making alternative fuels projects.

In other last-minute moves, Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators announced agreement on a watered-down version of Brown’s pension reform plan which would increase the retirement age, cap pensions at $100,000 and end the practice of pension spiking (increasing an empoyee's salary in his or her final year). Brown originally proposed a 401(k)-style plan and also a reduction in retiree health care costs.

These changes will affect all California municipal employees in non-charter cities. San Diego, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Chula Vista, El Cajon and Oceanside are Charter Cities.

Air Traffic At Lindbergh at 25-Year Low: Dire predictions made in 2006 that the San Diego International Airport would become increasingly congested and reach capacity by 2022 seem to have been exaggerated – or at least overtaken by circumstances.

Pushing for a new airport at MCAS, Miramar, the Regional Airport Authority said then that Lindbergh Field was approaching the end of its usefulness and the region needed to start building a new airport right away. Instead, in 2011, takeoffs and landings were at their lowest levels since 1986, or 48,000 fewer than the authority projected.

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