Letter to Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense - Bipartisan Group in Pushing Pentagon on VA Claims Backlog

Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs sent a bipartisan letter to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to follow through on a February 2013 plan to improve disability benefits claims processing for transitioning service members and veterans. The mutually agreed upon plan that the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) struck calls for the DoD to begin the transfer of complete and certified Service Treatment Records (STRs) to VA immediately, with electronic transfer capabilities to be in place by December 31, 2013.

"This agreement has been represented by VA as a "game-changer' in enabling and improving its disability benefits claims system," wrote Committee members. "Ultimately, this will allow VA to issue compensation to disabled veterans faster. We support this joint initiative, and want to ensure that the resources required to execute it remain in place."

The complete text of the letter sent by the Committee can be found below and is available in PDF format in the link below.
http://veterans.house.gov/sites/republicans.veterans.house.gov/files/2013%2004%2016%20HVAC%20to%20Sec%20Hagel.pdf

Dear Secretary Hagel:

As you lead the Department of Defense in its tremendous operations, we write to underscore the importance of your continued and enhanced communication and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. In February 2013, DoD and VA mutually agreed on a plan of action to improve disability benefits claims processing for transitioning service members and veterans. The plan provides for DoD to begin the transfer of complete and certified Service Treatment Records (STRs) to VA immediately, with electronic transfer capabilities to be in place by December 31, 2013. This agreement has been represented by VA as a "game-changer" in enabling and improving its disability benefits claims system. Ultimately, this will allow VA to issue compensation to disabled veterans faster.

We support this joint initiative, and want to ensure that the resources required to execute it remain in place. The VA/DoD information paper codifying the agreement states that success is dependent upon approved Joint Initiative Funding for labor and hardware. We request that DoD confirm current funding approval, and, if necessary, coordinate with VA and this Congress to forecast and ensure this initiative's funding needs are met. We note that all concerns regarding funding of this initiative must be resolved promptly and in coordination with VA and this Congress.

We learned that the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs wrote to you in recent days on this very same issue. This demonstrates that concern for our veterans and the effects of the disability claims backlog is both bipartisan and bicameral. The members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs echo the request of the Senate - that you work to strengthen DoD's existing partnership with VA as it improves its disability benefits claims system. As the Senate Committee noted, a seamless electronic transmission of records must be achieved and must include active duty service members as well as the Guard and Reserves. In upholding the promises made to this nation's service members and veterans, we will do all in our power to ensure the continued and enhanced partnership of DoD and VA.

The expectations of the American public, including the men and women who have worn the uniform, are reasonable. Veterans' disability benefits claims must be adjudicated in a timely and accurate manner and veterans must receive the benefits to which they are entitled. In the VA/DoD information paper provided to the committee it states that a veteran waits, on average, over 250 days for decision on a disability benefits claim. In some locations the wait is considerably longer. In that period, the information paper also indicates that the veteran's claim sits stagnant for up to 175 days as VA awaits transfer of complete STRs from DoD. Thus, the necessity of DoD and VA's cooperation cannot be overstated. Claims processing of veterans' disability benefits simply will not achieve a satisfactory timeline until the process for transfer of records between DoD and VA is updated, improved, and streamlined.

As we highlight the importance of this DoD/VA initiative to provide for electronic transfer of complete and certified STRs, both for active duty and the Guard and Reserves, and the requisite inquiry into the adequacy of the program's Joint Initiative Funding, we also welcome your input as we work to fulfill our obligations to the men and women who have served this nation.

Sincerely,

Jeff Miller Mike Michaud

Gus M. Bilirakis Corrine Brown

Doug Lamborn Mark Takano

David P. Roe Julia Brownley

Bill Flores Dina Titus

Jeff Denham Ann Kirkpatrick

Jon Runyan Raul Ruiz

Dan Benishek Gloria Negrete McLeod

Tim Huelskamp Ann McLane Kuster

Mark Amodei Beto O'Rourke

Mike Coffman Tim Walz

Brad Wenstrup

Paul Cook

Jackie Walorski