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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

January, 2006

Getting Veteran's Benefits Can Take Five Years

Washington, DC - Last Month, at a full Veterans' Committee oversight hearing on claims processing at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) heard testimony of excessive wait times for claims decisions and clear indications that VA needs more claims adjudicators.
The backlog of pending claims and the time it takes VA's Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to process a claim has increased over the past two years. Major concerns cited yesterday beyond the backlog of claims included:

A lack of quality in claims decisions;

A need for medical staff who conduct disability examinations to have a greater knowledge of health issues specific to veterans;

The perception that some claims processors have a complacent or dismissive attitude about their work.

"Veterans just want to be treated well. They recognize that something is not right and they are making a claim. How they are treated is important. It is about quality and attitude," Chairman Buyer said.

Dr. William Jones, a retired US Air Force flight surgeon, recounted his own tribulations with the VA claims process system over the past six years. Characterizing the claims process, he said, "the process is programmed to procrastinate . . . there appears to be little motivation to move the claims forward."

Ronald Aument, VA's Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, said that Dr. Jones' case showed how the claims adjudication process has gotten overly complex. He discussed VA's challenges to making "timely, accurate, and consistent" claims decisions, in the face of a steadily increasing claims workload.

"It is unconscionable that some veterans are waiting up to five years to receive a decision on the benefits they are entitled to receive. This must change. The VA must be given the resources needed to improve the process," said Committee Member Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

Buyer, at the hearing's conclusion, asked representatives of veterans groups who had provided testimony, including the VFW, The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and AMVETS, if they thought that VA needed more claims adjudicators.

Hearing their unanimous agreement that additional VBA staffing would help resolve the claims backlog and problems with quality decisions, Buyer said, "the increase in disability claims can be directly related to the increase in US military operations abroad. Doing more with less is not a strategy of success."

"We will need to increase the staffing at both the regional compensation office level and at the Board of Veterans Appeals to attack this backlog and prepare for the anticipated increases in additional claims," Buyer said. "I look forward to working with Ranking Member Lane Evans, veterans groups, and the Administration to come to a viable solution to resolve this pressing concern."

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, December 08, 2005 CONTACT: Brooke Adams (202) 225-3664

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