Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I am writing to express my concern regarding the challenges the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is having in providing timely claims decisions for our Nation's veterans. As I meet with veterans and other constituents from across Pennsylvania, they continually talk to me about the frustration and difficulties they encounter due to the backlog of claims decisions. I am particularly concerned about the long wait time for first time disability claims throughout Pennsylvania with some wait times of 510 days in Philadelphia and 625 days in Pittsburgh.
While I understand that the VA is implementing a plan to transform the compensation claims system, constituents continue to reach out to me about ways we can decrease the claims backlog. For example, we need to ensure that the VA works with the Department of Defense (DoD) in a collaborative manner to ensure a seamless transition of records. The VA also must work in collaboration with the DoD to automatically enroll all troops into the VA health care system when they leave active duty.
I am encouraged that the VA and DoD have been working together to develop processes to share the information and evidence that is necessary to process claims in a timely manner. However, I am concerned that the DoD is still transferring complete packages of records to the VA in a paper format. I am also asking Secretary Hagel to work with you on transitioning to a system where records are electronically transferred to the VA as soon as possible. Furthermore, the VA and DoD must create a common information technology solution that allows for a seamless electronic transfer of the information needed to speed up benefit decisions.
I also want to express my serious concern with the information brought forth in the VA Office of Inspector General, Office of Audits and Evaluations report that was released on April 9, 2013. The report shines a light on the severe problems the Philadelphia VA Regional Office (VARO) has in processing disability claims. These issues are only adding to the backlog and wait times in this region. I am particularly concerned with the high percentages of claims that were found to be "inaccurate because of lack of effective management and oversight." I urge the VA to immediately work to implement the recommendations made within the report.
Thank you for your consideration of these important matters. I look forward to working with you on addressing the claims backlog within the VA to ensure that all of Pennsylvania's servicemembers and veterans who have served our country receive the benefits they earned and so rightly deserve.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator