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

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.”