Senator John Hoeven this week pressed U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to provide greater security and care for North Dakota's veterans. At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, Hoeven pressed the VA to commit to open and operate a new Devils Lake VA clinic by the end of the year. The senator also called on the VA to reduce a claims backlog and better help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.
"Providing our nation's veterans with the highest quality services and care in a timely manner is one of our top priorities," said Hoeven. "We owe our men and women in uniform more than just our thanks after they've served. We need to ensure that the VA has the resources and the programs in place to meet our pledge to care for our men and women in uniform."
Devils Lake VA Clinic
During the hearing on the Veterans Affairs budget for FY 2014, Hoeven pressed the VA to commit to getting a new clinic in Devils Lake open and operating by the end of the year. Last year, Hoeven secured a commitment from the VA that they would open a primary outpatient and telehealth clinic in Devils Lake. The VA indicated that they were on track to firm up a lease for the clinic by August 2013 and have the facility open and serving veterans by December.
The clinic will provide veterans with daily access to primary care, mental health and specialty services via telehealth. It will be open 20 hours a week, with two qualified nursing staff on site.
Mental Health Services
Hoeven pressed Shinseki and VA officials to ensure that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses receive adequate and timely mental health services when they return from combat situations. In light of the high rate of veteran suicide, Hoeven urged the VA to ensure treatment of mental illness is tailored to each individual veteran's needs.
The senator said that the VA should continue to work with veterans groups to meet mental health, homelessness and other challenges facing the nation's veterans.
Reducing Claims Backlog
According to Disabled Americans Veterans, the average time to process a disability claim is now more than 270 days; and almost 70 percent of all claims are languishing longer than 125 days. According to projections, the VA will receive approximately 500,000 more claims in the next three years than it received in the past three years, and will be required to process an additional 1 million claims over the number processed in the past three years.
Hoeven continued to press Shinseki to meet the VA's commitment to fully resolve backlog issues by 2015. The VA, in 2011, committed to resolve the backlog and have zero claims pending for more than 125 days with a 98 percent accuracy rate.
In last year's budget, the senator supported federal funding for veterans programs, including funds to reduce backlogs of veterans' claims and expand access to benefits for veterans in rural areas.