U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been joined by Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, today announced the initial results of a roundtable discussion with senior Administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, and Internal Revenue Service Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Beth Tucker, to seek to finally put an end to the claims backlog that has troubled the Department of Veterans Affairs for years.
"The solution to this problem has to go right to the top," said Chairwoman Mikulski. "That's why I convened a meeting of Secretary Hagel at DOD, Secretary Shinseki at VA and the appropriate Commissioners from the IRS and Social Security, all of whom are supposed to get information to VA so they can process the claim. Well, we found that the bureaucracy was slacking and dragging. And through the work of our Committee, we have now insisted that they have a sense of urgency, a fire in the belly and that they get the job done. This year, the way we'll commemorate Memorial Day is by putting the right money in place and insisting that the right management is in place."
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Social Security Administration agreed to work together to break down the barriers between the Departments in order to end the gridlock. Specifically, the participants agreed:
1. Each agency will identify a single high level person whose sole focus is fixing problems, and who reports directly to the Secretary or Administrator.
2. Secretaries Hagel and Shinseki agreed to meet every 60 days as we progress toward ending the claims backlog.
3. A method of accountability to the Chairwoman and to the Committee, including a coordinated progress report to the Committee every 60 days.
Chairwoman Mikulski also announced that the first bill to be marked up by the full Appropriations Committee would be the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill. The markup is expected to be held the week of June17, 2013.
The roundtable was held just five days before Memorial Day, and seeks to address the 839,000 pending claims, including 559,000 pending more than 125 days and 205,000 backlogged more than a year that the VA is currently responsible for processing. This backlog exists despite years of attempts to improve processing times, all of which have so far failed to break the logjam and provide better and more efficient claims processing for America's veterans.
"I believe that VA and all of the supporting agencies are committed to solving this problem," said Senator Johnson. "And I believe all of them would agree with me that the current situation is unacceptable. My subcommittee has funded every dollar requested for VA claims processing, and has fully supported VA's efforts to develop a paperless claims system to speed claims processing. In return, we expect to see results."
"Today's roundtable offered an opportunity to provide an update on the compensation claims backlog and our ongoing work with the Department of Defense and with other federal agencies," said Secretary Shinseki. "We all agree that Veterans wait too long to receive the benefits they've earned. This is not and has never been acceptable to VA or our VBA employees, 52 percent of whom are Veterans themselves. With the President's leadership and the support of the Congress, we are aggressively executing a plan that will fix this decades-old problem and eliminate the backlog in 2015."
"The Department of Defense will be a full and responsible partner in helping end the Veterans Affairs claims backlog," said Secretary Hagel. "We intend to be successful."
"We understand the very important role we play in helping to serve our Nation's veterans," said Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration. "We are proud of the responsive service we provide to the VA when they request medical records from SSA. By continuing to work collaboratively through venues like today's roundtable, we can make further improvements to better serve our wounded warriors and veterans."
"The IRS is proud to partner with the VA and other federal agencies in improving the benefits claims process for our nation's veterans," said Beth Tucker, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support. "As the VA moves forward in its efforts, we will continue to provide support in any way we can."