This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that 7,800 support staff members are being furloughed at regional offices around the country. On Wed., Oct. 9, 2013, VA Secretary Shinseki testified in a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing on how the shutdown will affect claims processing. There is already a severe backlog in the processing of claims at the VA regional offices. Upon hearing the news of the furlough and after questioning Sec. Shinseki, Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) introduced the Veterans Services Support Act to ensure that Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion can continue to work alongside VA employees at VA regional offices during the shutdown, providing invaluable assistance to the Nation's veterans.
"The furloughing of nearly 8,000 staff members at the VA is only making a bad situation worse. Veterans depend on being able to call their regional office to check on their claims, and with the support staff missing, many of these calls may go unanswered. VSOs provide a critical role in helping veterans develop claims, assisting VA employees, and making sure veterans have all of the information they need to submit their claims," said Congressman McNerney. "My bill is a commonsense solution to make sure these volunteers can continue their work with our veterans and help their claims to be processed despite the government shutdown."
VSOs provide valuable volunteer assistance to veterans and their families throughout the country, helping veterans maneuver the VA system and navigate the complex claims application process. VSO representatives often work in VA regional offices, acting as liaisons between veterans and VA employees and providing guidance and expertise to claims processors. VSOs are an essential component of the VA and provide invaluable assistance to our nation's veterans. Unfortunately, the government shutdown has prevented VSOs from providing their expert volunteer service at VA regional offices, despite the fact that these are completely volunteer organizations, operating at no expense to the federal government.
The halt in funding for the VA has already led to claims processing delays for 1,400 veterans per day. Before the shutdown, employees who process benefits claims had been working overtime to help reduce the backlog of claims, but the government shutdown has led to overtime being eliminated. Without action, the already large backlog of disability claims stands to increase dramatically.
"The brave men and women who have served our country deserve to receive the benefits they have earned. They have sacrificed to protect our way of life, and it is our responsibility to take action to make sure that we honor their service. The Veterans Services Support Act will ensure that VSOs can continue to do the good work they do for our veterans," said Congressman McNerney.
The Veterans Services Support Act is cosponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, Rep. Corrine Brown, Rep. Mike Thompson, and Rep. Rush Holt.
"On behalf of the 2.4 million members of The American Legion, I would like to express support for the Veterans Service Support Act. VSOs provide valuable volunteer assistance to veterans and their families throughout the country, helping veterans maneuver the VA system and navigate the complex claims application process. Unfortunately, the government shutdown has prevented VSOs from providing their expert volunteer service to veterans at VA regional offices. Your legislation would ensure those VSOs continue to provide their critical service, even as disruptions in government funding stymie the regular operation of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This critical lifeline of aid is vital, and your bill has the vision to see past partisan politics and make sure those best able to help America's veterans are able to do so. Again, The American Legion supports passage of this legislation, and applauds your leadership in addressing this critical issue facing our nation's service members and veterans." -- Daniel M. Dellinger, National Commander, American Legion
"Veterans' claims are time-sensitive. This legislation will ensure that the veterans are not penalized because of closed VA offices. This legislation will keep the pipeline open for claims by veterans and their dependents and help protect their date of claim, and this bill will ensure that VSOs will continue to have access to help veterans with their claims." -- Ron Green, San Joaquin County Veterans' Services Officer
"As the commander of American Legion District 11, I want to thank Congressman McNerney for all his support for veterans and keeping our concerns and welfare a priority. It is critical that during this government shutdown the veterans of our region still have access to their VSOs to help them with the claims process." -- Tino Adame, Commander of American Legion District 11