Late last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2216, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014. Included in the bill was Congressman Jerry McNerney's (D-Stockton) recommended action to direct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address the backlog of disability claims at its regional offices across the country. Congressman McNerney asked that the VA issue quarterly reports for any regional office where the average days pending for a disability claim is 200 or more. This will increase oversight and accountability for reducing the backlogs of claims.
"The current wait times veterans across the country are experiencing for the benefits they have earned and deserve are unacceptable. We have to continue to hold the VA accountable so that we see real results. Accountability and oversight are crucial to ensuring the backlog of veterans' claims is reduced," said Congressman McNerney.
Congressman McNerney originally wrote to the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies to request this action. Congressman McNerney's recommended language was then approved by the House Appropriations Committee before it headed to the House floor for last night's vote.
"Just as I have continued to hold the VA responsible for taking action to address the backlogs at its regional offices, I am determined to see this plan through to the end. I take my responsibility to provide for our nation's veterans very seriously, and I thank my colleagues for supporting this important provision through the appropriations process," said McNerney.
The portion of the accompanying committee report to H.R. 2216 related to Congressman McNerney's request reads:
--The Committee finds the VBA back-log in processing disability compensation claims unacceptable. Although for years the Committee has fully funded the President's budget request for additional staffing and increased information technology funding for the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), the claims backlog continues to grow. Backlog as defined by the Department is the number of claims taking more than 125 days to process. The most recent data indicate that the average number of days to process a claim is 292, with averages in some regional offices exceeding 450 days. Currently, 69 percent of the VA compensation caseload is backlogged, although VA estimated in its 2013 budget the percentage in backlog would be 40 percent in 2013. The Committee understands the VA believes the agency will be able to process claims within 125 days by 2015 when the VBMS is fully operational. While the Committee supports the use of technology to improve performance, the Committee is highly skeptical that the VBMS system will be able to eliminate these enormous backlogs by 2015. Therefore, the Committee intends to initiate a new level of oversight to ensure that it has monthly information identifying the changes in timeliness occurring at each of the 56 regional offices. As of the date of the publication of this House report, the Department is instructed to provide the Committee each month, ten days after the prior month has ended, a report that identifies for each month cumulatively throughout the fiscal year, both nationally and for each regional office: (1) the average number of days disability compensation claims are pending; (2) the share of the rating inventory that has been pending more than 125 days; (3) the rating claims accuracy on a three-month average; and (4) the month-to-month change in these indices, both by numeric value and percentage. The report may be in spreadsheet format. In addition, for each regional office with an average number of days pending for disability claims in excess of 200 days, the Department shall report to the Committee on a quarterly basis the actions taken, such as increases in claims processor FTE, staffing transfers, additional training, and technology adaptations, within the last quarter to reduce the backlog. While these reports are for the use of the Appropriations Committee, they are to be made available by the VA Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs to any Member of the House of Representatives upon request.