The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs today urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to help the Department of Veterans Affairs curb a growing backlog of claims for disability benefits.
The letter from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate panel, spoke of "the absolute need for continued collaboration, cooperation and commitment between these two agencies."
All of the other members of the committee also signed the letter, including Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. As of this month, more than 600,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days and are considered backlogged.
The senators said the Pentagon has an "increasingly vital" role to play in VA's effort to transform the compensation claims process. They called the backlog "one of the largest challenges confronting the Department of Veterans Affairs."
They praised a recent agreement to speed the delivery of Department of Defense documents to the VA on the treatment of service-related injuries. They also encouraged a planned switch from paper to digital records by the end of this year.
"We look forward to working together to ensure that the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our country receive the benefits that they undoubtedly earned and deserve," the letter said.
The full text of the letter is available in PDF format below: