The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is imploring Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “as a veteran yourself,” to jump in and help clear the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As of this month, more than 600,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days and are considered backlogged.
Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) 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. “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.”
All of the other members of the committee also signed the letter: Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
Earlier this month, Sanders suggested that the VA backlog could be contributing to vet suicides. In addition to the backlog, the VA has been slammed for its accuracy rate of 86 percent in settling claims.
“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 Sanders.
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.