U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., introduced bipartisan legislation today to help tackle the substantial claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Kirkpatrick is ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., is the bill's original co-sponsor.
The VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency Act (VA CORE) directs the Department of Defense to provide the service records of veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs in an efficient, electronic format. Currently, the average veteran waits more than 250 days for a decision on a claim. About 175 days of that time is the VA waiting for the DOD to send the complete records, which DOD currently processes on paper rather than electronically.
"Too many veterans are stuck in this backlog, and they deserve better," Rep. Kirkpatrick said. "In Casa Grande, my veterans' caseworker is helping several vets who've waited more than two years. This is simply unacceptable. Federal agencies must leave paperwork in the past and adopt an efficient, electronic approach. Our bill moves this process forward, and we'll keep going until the backlog is gone."
Rep. Coffman said, "As the Chairman of the Veterans Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigation, I am pleased to join Ranking Member Kirkpatrick in her efforts to highlight the agreement between the DOD and VA to complete the transition of veterans' records to an electronic format. The completion of this process is crucial to streamlining the claims process and helping veterans get the care they need and deserve."
The bill would:
Codify a plan both agencies agreed upon in February, in which Defense begins the immediate transfer of complete and certified service treatment records to VA, and electronic capabilities are in place by the end of 2013.
Require the Department of Defense to provide certified, complete and electronic records to the Department of Veterans Affairs within 21 days of military discharge or release.
The claims backlog is a growing and serious problem. As of March 30, 2013, VA had 885,068 claims pending. Of those, 613,876 claims were pending more than 125 days, at which point they are considered to be backlogged.
Veterans are filing disability compensation claims at historically high levels. VA now receives well over a million claims every year, and the numbers continue to grow.
The current paper-based claims system was established following World War I. Since then, statute changes made the process more complex, but no administration invested in updating the system. It was not until 2009 that our nation finally invested heavily in modernizing the claims processing system.