Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told the American Legion today that he is "deeply troubled" by unacceptable backlogs in processing veterans' disability claims.
"I refuse to accept the status quo," Sanders told the Legion's annual conference at the Washington Hilton hotel.
While the Department of Veterans Affairs has processed more than 1 million claims a year for each of the past three years, the number of new claims has outpaced the department's ability to process the paperwork.
"I am deeply troubled by the growth and the persistence of the claims backlog," Sanders said. "As we wind down our commitments overseas, the VA's claim workload will only increase in coming years and an already overwhelmed, broken claims system is no way to welcome these heroes home."
A new electronic, paperless claims process could help eliminate the backlog, he added, but problems have plagued its development and implementation. "A broken claims system not only jeopardizes the welfare of those veterans receiving benefits, but discourages those looking for help from reaching out in the first place. Given the number of veterans struggling with their mental health, this is simply inexcusable."
Sanders earlier announced that the Senate committee will hold a hearing in March on the disability claims backlog.
Also in his remarks to the Legion, Sanders praised its dedication and hard work at the local, state and national level. He spoke about health care, outreach efforts, the growing needs of women who served in the armed services and jobs for veterans. "While our country continues with its economic recovery, we must ensure that veterans are not left behind. Veterans possess the skills, the discipline, and the leadership necessary to succeed in a 21st-century workforce," he said.
Sanders also thanked the Legion for being part of a growing coalition of seniors, labor organizations and others fighting proposed cuts in Social Security and the benefits of disabled veterans and survivors. A change in how annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated would mean that veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65, according to the Congressional Budget Office.