The bipartisan Maryland House Delegation met today with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki for an update on how the VA plans to improve the claims process at the VA's Baltimore Regional Office, which has the largest backlog and highest rate of errors in the country.
Participating in today's meeting were Representatives Steny H. Hoyer, Elijah E. Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Donna F. Edwards, Andy Harris, and John Delaney.
The Delegation applauded Secretary Shinseki's plan to expedite claims that have been backlogged for more than a year, as well as his announcement in February that the Baltimore Regional Office would receive additional training, an influx of senior staff, and a new digital processing system ahead of schedule. However, they urged the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the functionality of the Baltimore Regional Office and retain a qualified workforce to meet the needs of Maryland's veterans.
Nationally, the average wait time for a veteran's claim decision is 273 days and approximately 65 percent of the 903,000 pending claims are older than 125 days. In Maryland, the situation is worse with veterans waiting on average 332 days or 11 months for a claims decision from the Baltimore Regional Office. 84 percent of the nearly 20,000 pending claims are older than 125 days. In addition, the Baltimore Regional Office has an error rate of 26.2 percent, while the national error rate is 13 percent.
"We have an obligation to stand up for the brave men and women who have fought so hard for our nation and ensure they have the care and resources they need to transition to civilian life," said Congressman Hoyer. "Unfortunately, the large backlog and high rate of errors we are seeing at the Baltimore Regional Office means that we aren't fulfilling that obligation to Maryland veterans. While the VA is taking positive steps to improve the situation, we have more work to do so that veterans in our state receive their benefits in a timely manner. The entire Maryland delegation is united in our efforts to improve services for veterans and their families and we will continue to work with Secretary Shinseki to do so."
"It was critical that our Delegation have the opportunity to understand the specific measures the Veterans Administration is taking to ensure that all claims are processed as quickly as possible ," said Congressman Cummings. "Though the Maryland Veterans Benefits Administration office is physically located in my district, the work it does touches the lives of Veterans throughout the region and state. I thank Secretary Shinseki for his time today and am hopeful that we are on our way to providing more efficient and effective service to our Veterans and their loved ones."
"I was pleased to meet with Secretary Shinseki and members of the Maryland Delegation today to discuss the inexcusable backlog problem that continues to plague the VA's Baltimore Regional Office. It is completely unacceptable that Maryland's veterans are forced to wait one year, on average, for an initial decision on a disability claim," said Congressman Van Hollen. "I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Shinseki, Under Secretary Hickey, and my Maryland colleagues on behalf of the over 450,000 veterans in Maryland who are served by the Baltimore VA office."
"One of my office's top priorities is working with local veterans caught in government red-tape, so we know their frustrations first-hand," said Congressman Ruppersberger. "The situation is and has been unacceptable for years. The Maryland Delegation today met with Secretary Shinseki and discussed solutions, which will require adequate staffing and modern technology to deal with the backlog of cases. We will continue to monitor the VA's progress to ensure our nation's heroes get the benefits they earned."
"Maryland's veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to serve our country and they shouldn't be forced to fight for the benefits they've earned," said Congressman Sarbanes. "Although the VA was slow to react to the severe problems in the Baltimore regional office, I am guardedly optimistic that we're beginning to turn a corner and will work with my colleagues in the Congress to ensure continued progress."
"The egregious backlog at the VA's Baltimore Regional Office does not do justice to Maryland's servicemen and women who served our nation with dignity," said Congresswoman Edwards. "Maryland veterans and their families rely on these benefits to bridge the gap to civilian life, so it is critical that they receive them in a timely fashion with fewer errors. It is clear that Secretary Shinseki is dedicated to rectifying this wrong by implementing a plan to expedite backlogged claims and improve functionality in the long-term. I appreciate Secretary Shinseki briefing our delegation and expect to receive further updates on the progress moving forward."
"Our veterans deserve the best possible healthcare for serving this country," said Congressman Harris. "It is unacceptable that the average wait for a claims decision is nearly 11 months at the Baltimore Regional Office. I welcome the plan Secretary Shinseki put forward to improve the healthcare at this facility and look forward to working with him to make sure it gets implemented."
"All Americans, whatever their party, believe that our veterans have earned our support and deserve the benefits they've earned," said Congressman Delaney. "Along with my colleagues in the Maryland delegation, I'm extremely concerned by the reports of a massive casework backlog and long wait times for our Maryland veterans. Having our wounded warriors wait a year to receive disability benefits is unacceptable. I appreciate that Secretary Shinseki recognizes this is a problem. As a delegation we're dedicated to finding solutions to this problem and we should think out of the box to better streamline the process."