Lincoln-Snowe-McCaskill Amendment Adds $70.3 Million to Reduce Delays at the VA
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill yesterday joined her colleagues Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in offering an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution to address the months-long backlog of disability claims and appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The amendment - which provides the agency with an extra $70.3 million to hire additional personnel and offer training resources for employees to reduce the backlog at the VA - passed the Senate unanimously Thursday.
Just weeks after the Walter Reed scandal, new reports indicate that the VA is rife with similar problems. In addition to problems of red tape, an internal VA audit recently found poor conditions at a number of VA facilities, including mold and insect and bat infestations. The Washington Post reported that one hospital director even rationalized that their bat infestation was positive because "the bats keep the insect pollution to a minimum." The budget resolution that includes yesterday's amendment also includes funds for facility maintenance and repair as part of the VA's $43.1 billion discretionary spending allotment.
"I can't decide which is worse: that a veteran hospital is infested with bats or that the head of that hospital acted like it was okay," McCaskill said. "We must do better by our veterans."
The Lincoln-Snowe-McCaskill amendment aims to address bureaucratic delays and red tape in the VA's overwhelmed disability claims system by providing the agency with $65.4 million to hire 600 new disability claims processors, $4.1 million to hire 32 new processors for the Board of Veterans Appeals, and $800,000 for additional employee training. Increased claims personnel aim to reduce the VA's backlog of 400,000 disability claims and almost 40,000 appeals.
The increased VA funding for 2008 comes amid reports of under-funding at the agency and systematic problems of bureaucratic delays. With troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and an aging veteran population, the VA has had a 23 percent spike in disability claims and an 82.5 percent increase in cases appealing VA medical decisions. Meanwhile, staff for the Board of Veterans Appeals has decreased since 2001. With the increases in claims and appeals at the VA, the agency's already large backlog of cases has jumped significantly in the last year.
"This is unacceptable treatment of veterans," McCaskill said. "They put their lives on the line for this country, and they deserve better than to come home to months of red tape just to receive the benefits they've been promised."
McCaskill has been outspoken about the need to provide timely, quality care for veterans and current members of the armed forces. Last month, she introduced the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, which cuts down on red tape in the military's medical care for wounded soldiers returning from war.
The Senate began debating the Senate Budget Resolution on Tuesday, and a final vote on the full bill is expected today.