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Past 4 Years: VA Budget Up 40 Percent, Yearlong Pending Claims Up 2,000 Percent

Two-thirds of Senate implores Obama to take "direct action and involvement" to free 600,000 veterans from morass.

Bridget Johnson


April 29, 2013 - 7:05 pm

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are getting frustrated about President Obama’s apparent lack of urgency in speeding up the claims process for veterans waiting nearly a year on average to get processed by the VA.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) today sent Obama a letter asking the president to take “direct action and involvement” in ending the backlog in which more than 600,000 veterans are stuck.

Sixty-five other senators joined on to the plea for the president to get things moving.

While the average wait time for first-time disability claims currently ranges between 316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer – 681 days in Reno, 642 in New York, 625 in Pittsburgh, 619 in Los Angeles, 612 in Indianapolis, 586 in Houston, and 510 in Philadelphia, the senators noted.

Some vets have been forced to wait more than 1,000 days. More than half of the total backlog consists of Vietnam and Gulf War veterans.

Over Obama’s first term, the Department of Veterans Affairs budget increased 40 percent but the number of claims pending for more than a year jumped by more than 2,000 percent.

“As a reminder, during this same time period, Congress has given VA everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees; however, this has not eliminated the backlog of claims,” the senators wrote. “Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations. We need direct and public involvement from you to establish a clear plan to end the backlog once and for all.”

“This country must be grateful for the safe homecoming of every single man and woman who has served in harm’s way. Our joy at their return must be reflected in our commitment to helping all who have served.”

Toomey said the VA’s two regional offices in his home state are mired in more than 23,000 unprocessed claims.

“This is unacceptable,” the senator said. ”Moreover, once a disability claim is considered it can take almost a year to get a resolution.”

The problem has evoked cries from Capitol Hill for weeks now.

In addition to the backlog, the VA’s accuracy rate of 86 percent in settling claims has raised the alarm at the GAO and with the department’s own inspector general, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at a March hearing.

“It is my view, and I believe the view of every member of this committee, that when men and women put their lives on the line defending this country, they must be treated with respect and dignity when they return,” he said. “Not with red tape and bureaucracy, not with, in some cases, years of delay.”

Sanders even suggested that the VA’s treatment of veterans could be contributing to an even deeper tragedy.

“Without being overly dramatic, let me state that we are losing 22 veterans every day from suicide. This is a tragedy that we must address,” the senator said. “I know that no one in the VA, no one on this committee, wants to add to that tragedy, because of unnecessary delays that could extenuate the problems that veterans express.”

At a hearing last week on VA outreach, Sanders bawled out the department for not even meeting its responsibilities with Congress, nevertheless veterans.

“It is completely unacceptable with the vast resources of the VA that they were incapable of submitting their testimony to this committee on time,” Sanders said before his opening statement. “It is disrespectful for us to do our job of oversight. We, by rule, are supposed to be receiving testimony in a way that we can absorb it and learn from it. Testimony came in late. This is the second time since I’ve been chair that this has happened. And I just want to make the VA aware that this is not going to continue.”

Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) chimed in to say he’s got Sanders’ back.

“Whatever the chairman chooses to do I will back him fully,” Burr said. “I think that the committee deserves better from the VA and pledge to the chairman to work in whatever fashion to make sure that this practice — and I say practice because it is not an isolated incident — stops.”

Veterans Affairs announced on April 19 “an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer.”

That involves making a provisional decision on the oldest claims while allowing a one-year safety net period for veterans to submit additional information to weigh as evidence and not losing their appeal rights.

Priority processing continues for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets, former POWs and Medal of Honor recipients, and those who are homeless or terminally ill, the VA said.

Last week, a bipartisan group from the House Veterans Affairs Committee introduced the Veterans Administration (VA) Claims Efficiency through Information Act of 2013 to amend U.S. Code and make publicly available certain information about pending and completed claims. The VA would have to update the information, consisting of claims pending and average waits times by region and by medical condition, on a weekly basis.

“We must ensure that our veterans receive adequate and timely assistance by putting pressure on the VA to get this backlog under control,” said sponsor Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.). “After serving our country, too many veterans still wait too long for a decision on their disability compensation claims. This legislation will require more accountability from the VA by tracking the time spent evaluating each type of medical condition in a veteran’s disability claim: one of the biggest contributors to the claims backlog.”

A month ago, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee implored Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “as a veteran yourself,” to jump in and help clear the backlog of claims.

Sanders and Burr noted the recent agreement between the Pentagon and VA “to speed the delivery of evidence necessary for the adjudication of compensation claims.”

“We request that you ensure DoD makes smart investments in the resources and manpower necessary to expedite the transition from paper to electronic records transfer,” they wrote in a letter signed by all members of the committee. “We would also request that the DoD work closely with VA to ensure that Guard and Reserve records are included in this process.”

The letter highlighted “the absolute need for continued collaboration, cooperation and commitment between these two agencies.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
But when the government takes over all medical care in the nation, the waste and fraud and bureaucratic bumbling will magically disappear. ;)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (15)
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" More than half of the total backlog consists of Vietnam and Gulf War veterans."

I don't understand. When were these claims filed? Near the time of the injury? And if they are for injuries that were recently discovered, wouldn't it be natural for the department to have some skeptcism?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of course the veteran's claims will go up. Some are so terribly wounded and many have lost limbs. The claims should automatically be filed when the "soldier" istreated overseas. If a location for treatment is needed, surely that can be filled in a little later. Our military medicine should be an example of the best America has top offer. It should never be third rate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree Donna.
Unfortunately!it will more likely be that soldiers won't get treatments needed&shortcuts taken from.My dad has to go for checkups with VA every 6 months& every time there what shouldn't take more than 30 minutes will take about 2 to 2&1/2 hours.Liz
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
But when the government takes over all medical care in the nation, the waste and fraud and bureaucratic bumbling will magically disappear. ;)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wonder how many of those suicides represent vets who will NOT seek treatment because they know that gun-grabbing Democrats and RINOS are just waiting to pounce on any excuse to take the vets' Second Amendment civil rights away?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wonder if that rate is any higher than the national male suicide rate?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Need to look at the scams and fraud by those filing claims with VA. We had a group of Senior NCO's getting ready to retire comparing notes and what to claim. PTSD is a hot ticket item that increases their percentages. Also how the heck can a sidewalk Drill Sergeant that has never deployed get the CRC, while those of that have deployed don't have the right documentation?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I know a guy who got full disability from the VA because he's overweight and won't discipline himself. In fact most of the people I know personally who are getting benefits from the VA are getting them because they have lived unhealthy lives. The answer is to abolish the VA and give vets insurance they can use at home.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yep. I recall meeting some phonies myself when donating some bucks and stopping in for a pint at a VFW during Xmas some years back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are a lot of reasons why vets are not getting timely benefits. A few (but by no means the only) reasons:
1) The Obama Administration added a number of new disabilities to the list of Agent Orange presumptive conditions. Two of the conditions, diabetes and coronary artery disease, are primarily lifestyle issues, and they were added just when Vietnam vets are getting old enough that their lifestyles are catching up with them. VA does not require evidence of causation when determining whether a condition is considered Agent Orange presumptive. Correlation is enough. So if a lot of Vietnam vets are getting diabetes and heart disease in their 60s, well it must be due to Agent Orange. (I am unaware of a similar spike in diabetes, coronary artery disease, prostate cancer, etc. in the Vietnamese.) When the new regs came through, there were so many new claims that several Regional Offices cannibalized regular staff to set up special Agent Orange teams, and wait times for other claims skyrocketed.
2) Not every vet is a Wounded Warrior hero. The system is clogged with dubious claims. The really disabled are forced to wait in line while others are putting in claims for male pattern baldness, depression caused by in-service breast reduction scars... And tinnitus. Lots of tinnitus.
3) With websites like, vets have become quite savvy. A cottage industry has sprung up of doctors and psychologists willing to sell all-purpose medical opinions over the internet (Dr Bash? paging Dr. Bash?) And would-be Binder and Binder firms are trying to get a cut of disabled vets' money by throwing all kinds of poop on the wall hoping a few claims will stick.
4) There is a quality review program in Nashville which samples rating decisions for quality. But someone in the bowels of the VA bureaucracy thought it would be a great idea to set up quality teams in each of the Regional Offices nation-wide, and staff them with certified journeyman rating specialists who DO NOT PRODUCE RATINGS. In the largest Regional Office, there are about 15 of these individuals, representing a loss of production of dozens of ratings each day, or perhaps 1000 cases monthly. That is just one office, there offices in virtually every state in the country.
5) There is now a new national directive preventing any rating specialist from touching any case that is earlier than July 1, 2011. Good idea? Not so much. Old cases are not equally distributed through out the nation. Offices which do not have a lot of old cases are prohibited from addressing earlier cases, so raters who do not have old claims (because they have managed their workload properly) must not rate anything.
I could go on, but the problems never end.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If I understood the chemist I spoke to, the dioxin impurity that they are referring to (agent orange was actually an attempt to lower the amount of dioxin impurity in the defoliant) was also present in Scott Turf Builder and the original PhisoHex. I suspect also in the old VO5 shampoo (remember those commercials?). A former Edgewood Chemical Engineer that I know told me agent organge was continued domestically at the request of American Rice farmers. The whole dioxin business is at least overstated.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My heart goes out to fellow vets, A D, Guard, Reserves etc., in many respects whom need the V A for a myriad of matters.

Though there are MANY of the aforementioned which abuse and are committing fraud.

I know 3 Army vets who continue to receive 20-40% of their former A D pay and taxpayer provided V A visits/ check-ups.

The one receiving 40% claims the Army overlooked his 'asthma'. He KNEW he'd asthma, didn't disclose said asthma when joining AND on top of that he's a continuing lifelong smoker!

The other 2 people have similar falsehoods. Whereas they'd joke about their theft!

I know an USAF vet who sponges off the system too. The Army doesn't have this career field whereas he'd seen his share of 'Army support'. He's used this backdrop to obtain benes as well.

As many A D, vets are aware of - the overwhelming # of military career fields are NOT available if/ when seeking like-minded work when returning to/ retiring to civilian life.

The Army, Dep't of the Navy are the 3 leading services possessing the most combat ready, overseas jobs, respectively.

Often times all military services do not allow individuals to cross-train into a more civilian-conducive type job. Whether it's due to their being critical career field, the military time/ money invested etc.,

Many of these people have families, children etc., When ending their military career many didn't, don't and/ or in some instances not allowed to attend C C, J C or 4-year schools.

Their going from a health insurance provided, safe and law abiding community, base housing with NO rent nor electrical bills, low on-base gas prices, tax-free grocery stores, NEX/ and BX/PX malls - moving back to civilian life.

These folks will do anything, blame anyone and find their deception/ theft 'just and deserving'.

With our military being an ALL voluntary workforce, enlistee hopefuls can study and test successfully to obtain the proficiency necessary for the job(s) they prefer rather than enlisting, 'Open General' job-wise whereas the powers that be decide for them.

I waited 5 months in the Delayed Enlistment Program, awaiting an opening for my chosen career field.

The ridiculously higher uptick 'Pending Claims' more than likely has many 'just and deserving' types.

With this rise in pending claims, it'll inevitably bring about pols demanding more Federal employees at our V A's too.

Yep, tens of thousands of more Federal employees will 'help'.
1 year ago
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