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

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."