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Public Statements

Letter to Erik K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs - Disability Claims Backlog

Today, Congressman John Boehner (R-West Chester) and the Republican members of the Ohio delegation to the U.S. Congress sent a joint letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) requesting monthly accountability reports that disclose the progress of a transformation plan that aims to eliminate the agency's disability claims backlog. The monthly reports requested by the Ohio Members of Congress would include benchmarks and specific information on each of the VA's 40 transformation initiatives.

As it currently stands, the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Regional Office (VARO) averages 456.6 days to process a claim, while the nationwide average is 365.5 days. Boehner and other Ohio Republicans have said this performance level is unacceptable, and kept steady pressure on the VA to improve.

In the letter sent today, the members cite the recent failures of the federal bureaucracy as evidence of the need for monthly accountability reports.

"Americans have learned a lot of unsettling things about the Executive branch of our government in recent weeks. These recent findings represent a failure of federal bureaucracy and demonstrate the damaging effects of big government mismanagement," Boehner and the other Ohio Members of Congress write. "The American people, and veterans in particular, must be able to count on transparency from their government and we, as Members of Congress, will continue to fulfill our obligation to hold the VA and this administration accountable."

"While I applaud the renewed efforts to address disability claims in Ohio that have been pending more than two years, I have serious concerns that they will end up being just another Band-Aid covering the larger problem: the system is broken and needs to be fixed," Boehner said. "Along with my fellow Ohio members, I will not stop until I am 100 percent confident that this transformation plan is going to actually fix the program, and that means we need more transparency and more accountability."

"If we have learned anything in the past few months, it's that we don't want to just see action that grabs headlines; we want real transparency to ensure that the transformation plan is actually creating a more efficient and effective process for our nation's vets," Boehner added.

Please find the text of the joint letter below and a PDF version here.

NOTE: Congressman Boehner has sent two letters to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the past six months calling for more transparency and reporting by the VA on progress at the Cleveland VARO. Read Congressman Boehner's April 9th letter here and February 20th letter here.

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

We all agree that veterans across Ohio and nationwide deserve a benefits system that meets their needs and a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that is efficient and direct. As you well know, Americans have learned a lot of unsettling things about the Executive Branch of our government in recent weeks. These recent findings represent a failure of federal bureaucracy and demonstrate the damaging effects of big government mismanagement. The American people, and veterans in particular, must be able to count on transparency from their government and we, as Members of Congress, will continue to fulfill our obligation to hold the VA and this administration accountable.

Nearly a year ago, in July 2012, the VA and the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) officially announced a transformation plan to eliminate the claims backlog in 2015 and process all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. While your transformation plan includes lofty projections to eliminate the claims backlog, there are no short-term benchmarks to measure its success, and unfortunately, there is currently little evidence to suggest that your agency is trending to its 2015 plan goals. In fact, current data shows that rating claims processing times have increased for year to date -- the Cleveland VA Regional Office (VARO) average stands at 456.6 days while the nationwide average stands at 365.5 days. This data is cause for serious concern and raises the question of whether your 2015 goals are truly achievable.

The public demands a government that is direct and transparent, yet the VA has time and again ignored calls for increased transparency and agency accountability. The VA has yet to reveal its benchmarks for evaluating the effectiveness of the 40 initiatives in the transformation plan; the VBA has chosen to implement extraneous claims processing measures to obscure the transformation plan's results; and VA executives have been awarded "performance" bonuses, including one executive who collected almost $60,000 in bonuses while presiding over a near seven-fold increase in the backlog. This is most certainly not the transparent and accountable government our veterans and the public demand.

Mr. Secretary, you once said that the "VA has a responsibility to the American people, who are investing millions of dollars in technology projects, to deliver quality results that adhere to a budget and are delivered on time. They need to have confidence that the dollars they are spending are being effectively used to improve the lives of our Veterans." We respectfully request that you provide veterans and the American people with monthly accountability reports that specifically disclose how your agency's 40 transformation initiatives are tracking to meet your 2015 goals. This information should be specific to each initiative and not simply incorporated into the figures displayed in Aspire Dashboard and Monday Morning Workload Reports.

We request disclosure of this information beginning August 1, 2013. Our nation's veterans are relying on you and the VA as they come home from the battlefield and collect the benefits they have so honorably earned. Thank you for your service and your prompt attention to this very important matter.

Sincerely,

John A. Boehner
Member of Congress

Rob Portman
United States Senator

Steve Chabot
Member of Congress

Jim Jordan
Member of Congress

Robert E. Latta
Member of Congress

Bill Johnson
Member of Congress

Brad Wenstrup
Member of Congress

Patrick Tiberi
Member of Congress

David Joyce
Member of Congress

Steve Stivers
Member of Congress

James Renacci
Member of Congress

Michael Turner
Member of Congress

Bob Gibbs
Member of Congress


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