In an effort to eliminate bureaucratic delays and deliver benefits to veterans more quickly and efficiently, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a former Army Ranger and a member of the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, today joined with Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD), and other key members of the Appropriations Committee for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki to discuss efforts to eliminate the VA claims backlog.
Over the last four years, the VA has processed more than 4.1 million claims, a figure unmatched in department history. However, during that same time, VA offices took in 4.6 million claims. Due to this increase in claims, as well as understaffing, technology issues, and other factors, there are currently nearly 585,000 veterans in the VA benefits backlog.
"The VA has declared war on this backlog and it is a fight we must win. This backlog is untenable, and I am committed to ensuring our veterans get the benefits they earned and that means ensuring the claims system is efficient and effective. Rhode Island has one of the shortest wait times for veterans and should serve as a national model," said Reed, who worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make Providence the first Regional VA office in the nation to install a new Veterans Benefit Management System (VBMS). VBMS is designed to move the VA to paperless benefits processing; improve communication with our veterans; and track veterans throughout the system and help them cut down on paperwork and wait times.
Nationwide, veterans wait an average of about 300 days for their benefits to be processed. At Rhode Island's regional VA office, the average wait for service-related benefits for first time claims is 83 days, the lowest in the nation.
Secretary Shinseki, a former four-star general and Army chief of staff, said he expects the Veterans Benefits Management System to be implemented at all 56 regional offices in the coming months.
The VA also recently announced plans to increase the use of overtime for claims processors at all of its regional offices nationwide as part of a "surge" aimed at eliminating the disability claims backlog.
"If veterans in Rhode Island are having a hard time getting their benefits, I encourage them to reach out to my office. I want to ensure that all veterans and their families can access the benefits they earned," said Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Veterans Administration. Reed is working with Chairwoman Mikulski to provide $2.1 billion in the coming federal fiscal year to improve the processing of disability claims, which is more than double the amount provided in 2007.