In advance of Memorial Day -- and with a staggering 25,000 pending disability claims filed by Ohio veterans -- U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced a new plan to reduce the backlog. Brown outlined a new bill that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to notify Ohio veterans and their families of assistance available to them in filing for VA benefits electronically.
"Too many veterans return to their communities and can't access the benefits they've earned in a timely fashion," Brown said. "The good news is that more veterans are contacting the VA to secure their benefits, but too many of these claims are backlogged."
"Though the new filing system is a good first step to streamline the application process, veterans filing claims on their home computers may not know that pro-bono advocates, like Veterans Service Organizations, are available to help," Brown continued. "That's why I introduced the Veterans Services Outreach Act. This bill would require the VA to notify veterans that they can receive help and important time-saving information from VA-approved organizations that can help streamline this process, cut down the backlog, and connect veterans with the support they need."
As of March 2012, Ohio veterans are awaiting decisions on 25,226 claims--70 percent of which have been pending for more than 125 days. According to the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, the Ohio backlog is projected to increase by 17 percent in the next four months alone. Last year, VA processed 1 million claims from our nation's veterans, but 1.3 million new claims were submitted to the VA. Because of understaffing and technology issues, the backlog has delayed or prevented veterans from receiving the benefits they have earned.
The VA is working to address the backlog by switching to an electronic filing system to expedite claims processing, but veterans filing claims on their home computers may not know that pro-bono advocates, like Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), are available to provide assistance.
Earlier this month, Brown introduced The Veterans Services Outreach (VSO) Act, legislation that would alert veterans to trusted third-party advocates, like VSOs, that can help veterans assemble detailed, accurate, and complete claims that are more likely to be processed quickly--shrinking the current backlog. Brown's bill has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), a leading provider of these services.
Brown was joined on today's call by Charles Hooker, a veteran from southwest Ohio who struggled to receive the VA benefits he earned while serving our country in Vietnam. Hooker, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), filed for disability coverage in 2005. Initially denied, he contacted Brown's office to assist with his appeal. After five years, in 2010, Hooker was rated 100 percent disabled by the VA and was granted retroactive benefits.