VA CORE, the bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., to help tackle the substantial claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs, today passed the House of Representatives as an amendment to HR 1960, the Department of Defense reauthorization bill. The passage is Kirkpatrick's first legislative victory for veterans during the 113th Congress, building on her veterans-related accomplishments from the 111th Congress. She is Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
"From the moment I took office, I began hearing from men and women struggling with the VA backlog, and I promised to fight for them," Kirkpatrick said. "Today's vote is a victory for veterans across District One, from Casa Grande to the White Mountains, and from Oro Valley to Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation. And it's a victory for veterans everywhere who have sacrificed so much for our country. This is an important step toward eliminating the claims backlog so veterans can receive the care and resources they deserve."
VA CORE is the first successfully passed legislation out of a 10-bill package introduced this spring by members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee to help the Department of Veterans' Affairs accomplish its goal to eliminate the backlog by 2015.
The VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency amendment 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.
The VA CORE amendment will:
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 90 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.