In a letter sent today, U.S. Representative Tom Rooney (FL-17) called on President Obama to take steps to alleviate the claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve the benefit delivery system. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 26 Members of Congress who are military veterans or actively serving in the National Guard or Reserves.
"I'm tired of having to make excuses for VA to veterans in my district who aren't getting decent, timely services and treatment," said Rep. Rooney, an Army veteran and member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. "The VA has promising for years to reduce the backlog, but it just keeps getting longer. Our veterans deserve more than empty promises -- they deserve results. We need to see meaningful changes at VA, and that starts with a commitment from President Obama to require real leadership and implement significant reforms."
"Veterans are a special class of people," said Representative Duncan Hunter (CA-50). "At the very least, they deserve a benefit delivery system that is reflective of their service and sacrifice, but that's not what they're getting. The backlog of claims is staggering and the steady stream of complaints is indicative of a system that lacks efficiency. If VA leadership is unwilling to initiate the improvements and changes needed to restore confidence and trust, then the President has a responsibility to take action."
"The men and women who bravely put their lives on the line to defend our country deserve not only our gratitude, but also the support they were promised," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL-16). "The current situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs is unacceptable and I ask the President to join us in our efforts to reform our failing system."
Representative Tim Murphy (PA-18) concluded, "Veterans who spent years defending our nation overseas shouldn't spend years at home waiting for the VA to serve them. We are going to put an end to the long waiting periods so that veterans get first class service and the benefits they earned. Congress has given more money, more resources, and more employees to the VA to address this problem, but it still persists. We're going to fix this ongoing problem and I welcome the President to join in our effort to eliminate the backlog and ensure our veterans get the care they deserve."
Text of the letter follows:
Dear President Obama:
As military veterans and those actively serving in the Guard and Reserve, we are increasingly concerned with the many difficulties our fellow veterans are experiencing when filing compensation claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans of all generations deserve the highest quality care and timely delivery of services; and right now, the VA benefit delivery is putting America's veterans at a disadvantage.
Despite the commitment of VA Secretary Erick Shinseki to streamline the disability claims process and bring the VA into the digital age, almost 900,000 claims remain unprocessed, with over 69 percent of claimants waiting more than 125 days. The claims backlog has also increased by 2,000 percent in the past four years. By VA's own projections, the overall number of pending claims is expected to rise to a staggering 1 million in the near future.
This is not progress that veterans and taxpayers expect. As Secretary Shinseki recently noted, these problems are not the result of lack a lack of resources. While other department budgets have seen reductions, VA received $25 billion in additional funding since 2009, including $500 million to migrate the claims process online. Four years later, only 3 percent of claims have been digitally converted and 97 percent of claims are still adjudicated on paper.
Even more troubling are the wait times at some VA centers. Secretary Shinseki himself said at his 2009 confirmation hearing, "there is no reason why a veteran submits a claim, takes a number and waits for six months." We agree. Unfortunately, veterans continue to wait on average 273 days for a claim to be resolved. In some metro areas, the wait time is closer to 2 years. Regardless of the reason for a surge in new claims, we are confident that you agree such excessive wait times are unacceptable.
The VA is clearly on the wrong track. Mr. President, we know you care deeply for America's veterans, but it is important for you--as Commander in Chief--to publicly acknowledge the problems within VA and the necessity for reforms and leadership that are capable of alleviating the claims backlog and improving the benefit delivery system. We urge you to take a strong position in support of America's veterans and use your influence and authority to ensure VA fulfills its duty and obligation to those who have served and sacrificed.
We stand ready to work with you to address the challenges at VA and begin the process of reform and recovery.
Full text of the letter is also available in PDF format below: