by: Blake Hanson Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Veterans lined up at the Charlotte Convention Center Thursday to wait, hopefully for the last time.
Tracey Cousin, a veteran from Atlanta, told Eyewitness News that his patience in the VA claims process has worn thin. It's been a year since he filed his claim.
"[Wednesday], I was at the Atlanta VA," said Cousin. "And then I left because I was frustrated. Really about to give up on this claim."
Eyewitness News reviewed data that shows there are more than 545,000 pending claims, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
That backlog is why the American Legion began setting up crisis command centers across the country, including one at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte.
Veterans who have yet to file a claim or who haven't heard back on their claim can come meet with the VA.
"This is very unique," said Joe Rapley, a North Carolina Department of Administration District Veteran Service officer. "It's not often that a veteran has a chance to speak with someone from the VA right across from them."
Rapley said those who file a new claim can usually drop an 18-month wait to eight months.
Those who already have a claim in the system can get almost immediate answers to their questions, said Rapley.
On Wednesday, around $130,000 in claims were issued to Charlotte-area veterans alone, he said.
It's an idea that's now drawing veterans from all over the southeast.
"I got in the car and drove up here and it was really worth it. It was really worth it because I feel so much better the way they are handling the claims now," said Cousin.
Rapley hopes the American Legion will bring a crisis-command center back to Charlotte, or at least nearby. The organization has already set up short-term centers at various U.S. cities to help respond to the VA crisis.
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