Following his tour of the Hines VA Hospital, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) met today with his Veterans Advisory Board to discuss the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog. At 483 days, the VA's Chicago Regional Office - which processes claims for all Illinois veterans - is the fourth most backlogged processing center in the country. More than 82% of its 20,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days, which is significantly above the national average. To date, efforts have been unsuccessful in addressing this crisis.
Senator Kirk has partnered with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) to develop a bipartisan 10 point claims processing plan that will reduce the wait time for deserving veterans everywhere. Senator Kirk, Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, voted to appropriate $63.4 billion to the VA, of which more than $2.5 billion will help reduce the claims backlog in Illinois and across the nation.
"The VA's Chicago Regional Office has the 4th worst processing time in the nation," Senator Kirk said. "It is unacceptable that these men and women who have served our nation honorably are made to wait over a year before receiving basic services when they return home. That is why Senator Johnson and I have developed a 10 point claims processing plan that will increase resources and reduce inefficiencies within the Department of Veterans Affairs."
Senator Kirk and Senator Johnson's 10 Point Claims Processing Plan
Add $20 million to upgrade computer hardware in regional offices
Add $10 million for targeted overtime and training for claims processors
Direct VA to increase training of claims processors
Direct VA to provide quality review teams and spot audits
Direct VA to create centers of excellence for certain types of complex claims
Direct VA to have the data management capability to receive all DoD health records in an electronic format by the end of calendar year 2013
Require VA to provide monthly reports to the appropriations committees on performance measures for each regional office
Require VA to submit quarterly reports on the number of claims personnel in each regional office, corrective actions to remedy any problems at poorly performing offices, training programs and quality review team audits
Direct VA inspector general with DoD inspector general to examine the processes and procedures involved in the transmission of medical and personnel records
Add $12.9 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals to hire additional personnel to expedite the processing of appeals.
Senator Kirk highlighted a specific case in which, prior to his intervention, constituent and Vietnam Veteran Roger Allison had been waiting 790 days from the time that his claim was filed to award determination. More than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA's disability claims backlog as of April 20, 2013, according to the VA's weekly public disclosures. While the average wait time for first time disability claims currently ranges between 316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer. In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA.