CINCINNATI (AP) – U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said the system for handling veterans’ disability claims is broken and he wants the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain what is being done to fix it.
Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, said in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki this week that the benefit delivery system for veterans has not shown any noticeable improvement in the four years Shinseki has headed the department and the backlog of compensation claims “remains alarmingly high.”
The VA was preparing a formal response to Boehner’s letter, a VA spokesman said Friday. The VA has said it completed a “record-breaking” 1 million claims per year the past three years.
But the speaker wrote in his letter that the backload remains high, especially in Ohio, despite the announcement at the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Regional Office last summer of a new organizational model to help reduce the backlog by 2015. The Cleveland office, which handles claims from around the state, is now processing claims in an average of 334 days compared with the national average of 272 days and the VA’s own goal of 125 days, Boehner said.
Since the transformation began at the Cleveland office, the average time to process a claim has increased by 20 percent, or about 56 days, and the current national average has increased by 17.7 percent since January 2012, Boehner said.
The speaker said in a statement that he has been “disappointed and disheartened by the results” of the new system and that system failures reported by Ohio veterans are “shameful.” His office is handling more than 100 unresolved claims from Ohio veterans, including one from Air Force veteran Tiffany Hilliard, of Troy.
Hilliard said Friday that she has been waiting more than a year to add her now 17-month-old daughter as a dependent. She said she was told when checking last month on the status of her October 2011 request that inquiries about claim statuses were no longer being handled because of the backlog. Hilliard said she has lost benefits by not having her daughter listed as a dependent but hopes that “speaking out might help other veterans who may need more help.”
Army veteran Randy Bitner, of Eaton, said he submitted a disability claim around March 2011 and received a form letter last month saying he was now in the system. Bitner said he has received no information about the timing for resolving his claim.
Data from a report on work load indicators reported by Veterans Benefits Administration field offices for Jan. 24, 2009, showed the number of pending compensation claims nationwide at roughly 390,000, with 10,500 of those pending at the Cleveland office, Boehner wrote. He said the report for Feb. 11, 2013, showed the total pending compensation claims had grown to 821,000, with more than 71 percent older than 125 days.
The VA said in 2010 that it invested $138 million in a digital paperless claims system that would be deployed in 2012. The VA has acknowledged that too many veterans have to wait too long to get benefits but says the paperless system will eliminate the backlog and the technology is expected to reach all 56 regional VA offices by the end of this year.
But Boehner wants answers now. He asked Shinseki to reply to his questions within 30 days.
Boehner’s questions include whether the VA’s benefits office has started to convert old paper files to digital ones and what end date is projected for conversion. Boehner also wants to know what the VA, which he says potentially made more than 400,000 errors in rating claims over the past three years, has done to reduce the time veterans are waiting to have claims reviewed and re-adjudicated.
He asked whether Shinseki believes the VA is on track to achieve its goals of processing claims in under 125 days and eliminating the claims backlog by 2015.
“America’s veterans,” Boehner wrote, “are counting on you.”
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy