On average, a veteran in the Pittsburgh areas has to wait one day shy of a year between the time they apply for disability benefits and the day they are approved.
Though the backlog has been shrinking, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says it is not falling fast enough, and in an effort to fix the situation, he and bipartisan group of six senators have introduced legislation aimed at fixing the system.
The Veterans Administration deems a claim to be backlogged after it has been in the system for more than 125 days. By its own admission, there are nearly 400,000 cases on that list.
Casey tells the story of a veteran’s widow who applied for benefits when she entered an assisted care living center and in the year that followed she watched her savings disappear and her paperwork languish. It was not until a member of Congress intervened that the application was finalized.
The legislation, which closely mirrors a report issued on the same day, calls for three major areas of change.
The first deals with streamlining the process by creating better avenues for various departments in the government to share information. The DOD must align its system with the VA’s system, and if it cannot, it needs to report back to Congress as to why.
The second area of concern address by the legislation is a need to find best practices in the system. There are 56 regional offices in the VA system that process the claims. Wait times average from as little at 97 days in Providence to 356.4 days in Jackson.
The bill calls for the Government Accountability Office to assess each of those offices.
“There should be a kind of standardization that should occur,” Casey said.
The third broad area in the legislation deals with helping veterans understand the system. Casey said there are simple solutions that the report finds will be extremely helpful.
“We would direct the VA to automatically send any person who establishes a user name and password at the e-benefits website a message outlining the benefits of filing a claim and how to do it,” Casey said.
The report found that many vets lose the materials about filing for benefits given to them at discharge long before they need to actually file a claim.
That same report, which was used to draft the legislation, read in part:
“For a claim to be processed in 125 days, the Veteran likely will have needed to file a completed claim; the claim must be authorized and sent to the correct Veterans Service Representative (VSR); the VSR must accurately and efficiently gather the evidence; the Rating Veterans Service Representative (RVSR) must rate the claim quickly and accurately; and the claim must be swiftly awarded.
Rarely does the claims process run this smoothly. That is why we believe Veterans, the VA, and Congress can all do more to fix the claims backlog. Working together, we can rewrite policies that reduce inefficiencies and increase coordination across the VA Regional Offices (VAROs), which can transition the claims process to a 21st century delivery service.”
The legislation has not been given a “score” or cost assessment, but Casey knows it will not be zero dollars.
“I’m willing to stand behind this whatever the cost,” said Casey, who has called on congress to set aside any fiscal ideology. “If you say you are going to keep the promise you got to keep the promise."