Senator Jon Tester is urging U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to help the Department of Veterans Affairs reduce its growing backlog of claims for disability benefits.
Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. As of this month, more than 600,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days and are considered backlogged.
Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, told Hagel there is an "absolute need for continued collaboration, cooperation, and commitment between these two agencies."
Tester praised a recent agreement to speed the delivery of Defense Department documents on the treatment of service-related injuries to the VA. He also encouraged a planned switch from paper to digital records by the end of the year.
"Moving forward, we ask that you work to strengthen the Defense Department's existing partnership with VA as it continues to transform its compensation claims system into one fit for the 21st century," Tester told Hagel.
Tester's letter follows a Veterans' Affairs committee hearing earlier this month to examine the backlog in veterans' claims.
At the hearing, Tester also called for the VA to "stop running from" veterans' mental health issues and to "think outside the box" to improve veterans' quality of life.