After a long delay for debate on the House floor, the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs finally heard testimony last night from VA leaders and veterans' advocates, including DAV, VFW and the the American Legion, on the daunting VA claims backlog. To view a video from the hearing, Click Here.
During the hearing, Michael Walcoff, undersecretary of benefits for the Veterans Benefits Administration, noted that the VA has significantly increased its ability to adjudicate claims in FY2009, citing a 9.3 percent increase over last year's figures. However, the total number of claims that have entered the VA system has increased by more than 13 percent over the same period of time, exacerbating the backlog. While the overall number of claims has increased, Walcoff also noted that the total time to process a claim has decreased by more than two weeks.
However, the average time remains about 161 days, according to Walcoff, meaning that veterans must still wait more than five months for a claim to be processed. While Walcoff refuted that the VA's figures constituted a "backlog," the raw data speaks for itself. To read Walcoff's testimony, Click Here.
During the hearing, DAV Assistant Legislative Director Kerry Baker proposed a three-tiered approach to help mitigate the backlog, which includes legislative action, improved IT capabilities, and reorganization of the claims process.
Baker said that his organization's approach would not cost the taxpayers more to implement and could cut the lag time in processing by 30-90 days. To read Baker's testimony and DAV's outline of proposed changes, Click Here.
Both the Legion and VFW acknowledged that the VBA needed to take a fresh look at the claims process, rather than reinforcing past mistakes, calling for a similar IT solutions and proper training to help streamline the process.
AMVETS, which helps to process VA benefits claims, also supports key legislative changes that may help expedite the process, such as the COMBAT Act, intruduced by Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), chairman of the disability assistance subcommittee. The act, which recently passed committee, would create a presumption of combat exposure for certain veterans, eliminating burdensome evidentiary requirements for combat-related mental health issues.
As the claims backlog story develops, check back with American Veteran Online for details.