Dr. Boozman's Check-up
During a recent dinner at the White House, we had a chance to discuss issues we were concerned about with President Obama. I took the opportunity to raise a little discussed, but extremely troubling problem that the administration is not doing enough to address—the claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
According to some reports, the wait time for initial disability claims is almost a full year, and closer to two years in some parts of the country. In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2000 percent, despite a 40 percent increase in the VA’s budget. This is an alarming stat that was referenced in a letter we sent to President Obama earlier this week that outlined our concerns and urged his “direct and public involvement” in this matter.
While the VA has received everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees, it has only resulted in more delays for veterans. Other departments have been asked to do more with less, while the VA’s budget has continued to grow in recent years. Furthermore, the VA is not subjected to sequestration, like the majority of the federal government.
The sad reality is that the VA has been stuck in the past. While they have been transitioning to an electronic records system that should dramatically reduce wait times, the department, for the most part, continues to operate with a paper record system.
Yesterday, the Veterans Benefits Administration—an organizational element of the VA that processes disability, pension and other claims for the larger agency—announced it has eliminated bonuses, saying money slated to go to executives instead will be reinvested to accelerate elimination of the backlog. This is a step in the right direction. If the claims of veterans are not being processed, the people at the top do not deserve a reward.
Serving our country in uniform is an extremely noble undertaking that all-too-often goes under-appreciated and unnoticed. This is a terrible wrong that needs to be righted. We can start by fixing the last place where our veterans should go ignored, which is at the VA.
Follow the link below to read the letter sixty-six of my colleagues and I sent to President Obama on this issue.