By Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers
It is no secret that veterans are facing difficult times. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims backlog has been a problem that has risen to national attention and prompted outrage, concerns and questions. And for good reason. As Americans, we must do everything we can to ensure that programs and benefits administered by the VA are being done as efficiently and effectively as possible. This includes addressing the growing size of the backlog claims for disability benefits.
While President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki have a goal by 2015 that veterans should wait no more than 125 days for their claim to be processed, my office talks to veterans daily that have waited too longand still have not seen a resolution on their claims with the VA. These benefits being put on hold are vital to a veteran's quality of life.
Today, there are over 850,000 veterans waiting for their benefits claims to be processed. Over a quarter million of these veterans have waited over a year for their earned benefits. I have witnessed firsthand that the VA is dealing with seemingly unending stacks of papers and complex claims. However, this is not an issue that can be swept under the rug any longer. We must address the growing size of the backlog claims for disability benefits at the VA.
This is an opportunity to be creative and innovative -- to establish an effective system for our nation's veterans. While the current paper-based system was effective following World War I when it was established, it clearly is no longer the best system for the 21st century. I recently voted to pass the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014. This bill allocates millions of dollars to address the backlog issue. The goal is to have a paperless system with digital scanning of health care records by 2015. This is an ambitious and necessary goal. I want to ensure that progress is being made to meet that goal and prevent claims from continuing to pile up.
We all know technology can make things streamlined and more effective. However, technology alone won't solve all the issues surrounding the disabilities claims backlog. It's going to take a shift in culture. A culture of greater accountability and innovation must be embraced and practiced by all who work at the VA. The House is committed to pursuing policies that will help develop and foster a new climate of innovation and accountability at the VA. Additionally, each VA Center needs to have the flexibility to find out what works best for them and the veterans they serve.
I am committed to working with the VA to help our Eastern Washington veterans. The growing number of backlog claims for disability benefitshas continued for far too long and unless we actively pursue a change together, their needs will not be met.