Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) announced today that he has co-sponsored a legislative package aimed at reducing the claims backlog at the Veterans Administration.
"Our veterans deserve better. These long delays in processing benefits they've earned are completely unacceptable. The magnitude of this backlog and the impact it has had on families like Tony's demands swift Congressional action," said Cicilline. "I'm proud to be co-sponsoring legislation that will fix the existing backlog of claims in the VA system and provide an effective long-term solution once and for all."
According to the most recent available data, the total VA claims pending stands at more than 865,000 with more than 575,000 pending for more than 125 days. The bulk of this nationwide backlog comes from veterans who served during Vietnam or the first Gulf War. But roughly 20% involve veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cicilline was joined Monday morning by Tony Gallo, who has been working to resolve a claim since August 2012 on behalf of his mother, a lifelong resident of North Providence, regarding her eligibility for the Aid and Attendance Program. Like hundreds of thousands of other pending claims, Mr. Gallo's request remains unresolved nearly a year later -- affecting his family's ability to afford his mother's health care.
"I felt like I kept bumping into walls -- dates weren't being met, calls weren't being returned," said Mr. Gallo. "The help I've gotten from Congressman Cicilline's office has been phenomenal -- my mother would not be getting the benefits she is now without the Congressman's help. But it's unfortunate that an individual citizen would have so much trouble getting results on his own."
Taken one by one, the bills Cicilline is supporting would make significant improvements to the current system, but taken together they would fix the systemic flaws and ensure that the federal government provides effective services for veterans.
H.R. 1729 The VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency Act would help to reduce the amount of time spent waiting for DoD to provide information in a timely manner by requiring it provides complete, electronic records to the VA within 21 days.
H.R. 2088 The Claims Adjudication Centers of Excellence would establish a pilot program to help adjudicate the most difficult medical conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, in order to encourage specialization in the VA and reduce the wait time for decisions on these claims.
H.R. 2086 would require the VA to pay for individual medical conditions as they are adjudicated in an electronic system. Right now, veterans only receive payment when all their medical conditions are adjudicated, so this bill would help ensure that veterans receive their due compensation in a more timely manner.
There are seven other bills, outlined in the fact sheet embedded below, that would help remedy a range of existing problems and enable policymakers to get better, more definitive information regarding the backlog, require the VA to better utilize private medical evidence when available, and allow the VA to continue contracting for medical disability examinations for another five years.