Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today noted a problem of government mismanagement and service shortfall that has been building long before sequestration.
As of March 2, some 70 percent of the compensation and pension inventory of 895,000 claims were pending for more than 125 days at the Department of Veteran Affairs, the senator said at a hearing this morning to examine the backlog.
Sanders took over the gavel of the Veterans Affairs Committee from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) this Congress. Over the past several weeks, both the House and Senate panels have held four hearings with veterans’ organizations at which leaders generally raised the claims backlog as the No. 1 problem facing veterans.
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, Sanders said.
“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. Not with red tape and bureaucracy, not with, in some cases, years of delay,” he said.
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. 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,” said the chairman.
Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, has set a goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015, making sure wait time on claims doesn’t exceed 125 days, and achieving a 98 percent accuracy rate on claims.
Over the past three years the VA has completed more than 1 million claims each year.