Tester meets with Hagel, Shinseki about VA claims backlog

Senator pushes solutions to get veterans the benefits they earned

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today released the following statement after joining Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to find new ways to reduce the Department of Veterans Affairs claims backlog that is preventing veterans from getting the benefits they earned:

“Veterans made tremendous sacrifices for our nation and they earned more than just our ever-lasting respect – they earned the benefits they need to support themselves and their families. The current claims backlog is completely unacceptable, and I will keep looking for more ways to make sure the VA and Defense Department have the resources they need to live up to the promises we made to our nation’s military men and women.”

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has a long history of working to provide more resources and find innovative solutions to reduce the claims backlog. Much of the current backlog stems from the increasing number and complexity of veterans’ claims.

A complete synopsis of Tester’s work to reduce the claims backlog is available below.

Legislation, letters, meetings relating to the VA disability claims backlog

  • May 21, 2013 – Tester cosponsors Senator Sanders’ The Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013 to improve the timeliness and accuracy of VA claims decisions.
  • April 29, 2013 – Tester joins fellow Senators on a letter to the President asking him to take direct action and involvement to end the VA disability claims backlog.
  • April 25, 2013 – Tester introduces a bill to help the VA recruit medical specialists to help treat veterans. The VA must afford veterans a medical evaluation so the veteran can apply for disability benefits.
  • March 25, 2013 – Tester joins fellow Veterans’ Affairs Committee members in signing a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging DOD to help the VA reduce the growing backlog of claims for disability benefits. Tester’s letter is online HERE.
  • March 13, 2013 -Tester questioned VA officials at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing about the VA’s efforts to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims decisions.
  • February 16, 2012 – Tester and fellow Montana Senator Max Baucus announce that Montana’s Fort Harrison has been selected as one of three sites in the nation to serve as a test location for the Veterans Benefits Administration proposal to streamline the claims process.
  • July 7, 2011 – Tester brought VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to Montana to hear from veterans. During Shinseki’s visit, the Secretary heard about the need to address the claims backlog from veterans and from VA employees.
  • November 17, 2009 – The Senate passes the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, which includes funding to hire 1,200 new staff nationwide to help end the VA’s backlog of claims.
  • May 1, 2008 – Sens. Tester and Baucus introduce legislation to require the VA to report on the disparity in disability claims decisions among different states and regions.
  • February 19, 2008 – Tester brings Secretary Peake to Montana to discuss healthcare in rural areas and disability claims process. The pair toured the VBA’s Regional Office in Helena, which processes claims in Montana.
  • December 5, 2007 – Tester questions VA Secretary-nominee James Peake about the growing disability claims backlog.

Appropriations (Senator Tester is a member of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the VA)

  • FY 2013: The bill includes $86 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, an increase of $8 million over the Administration’s budget request, to combat the ever growing backlog of veterans’ claims. The Board’s average time to resolve a disability claim on appeal is projected to be 650 days in FY2013. The VA also projected the appeals backlog to grow to 65,611 claims in 2013. The funding increase provides additional personnel to assist in reducing the wait time and backlog. The Board of Veterans Appeals is the ONLY general administration office to receive an increase in funding in 2013. NOTE: The BVA is the second level of appeals within the VA if a veterans does not agree with the VA’s initial rating (or refusal to provide benefits).
  • FY 2012: The Department of Veterans Affairs was granted $3.16 billion for IT projects to develop electronic health care records, paperless claims systems, and seamless integration of medical and service records with the Department of Defense. These measures would hopefully go to reduce the wait time in the backlog of claims that has plagued the VA for years.
  • FY 2011: The FY11 bill provided $459.6 million above FY10 levels for the VBA’s operating expenses, which provided 4,048 jobs for claims processing personnel. The bill also redirected $12 million from a canceled printer initiative to address personnel needs in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program and added $14 million for education claims processors to handle the rise in education benefits claims.
  • FY 2010: This bill provided the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) with the resources to hire 1,200 new claims processors in fiscal year 2010. This grew the Compensation and Pensions Workforce 96% (from 7,500 to 14,549) from 2005 to 2010. A total of $53.2 billion in discretionary funding and $55.8 billion in mandatory funding was granted to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The total funding for the Medical Care accounts for FY2010 is $44.7 billion, a 12% increase in funding from FY09.
  • FY 2009: The 2009 bill included $94 million above the requested amount for the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire at least 1,100 additional claims processors to continue the effort to reduce the amount of time veterans have to wait to have their benefits claims processed.
  • In the FY 2008 omnibus, the Congress provided $1.6 billion — $133 million over the President’s request — to enable the Department to hire roughly 1,800 additional claims processors to work-down the backlog of benefits claims and to reduce the time to process new claims.
  • FY 2007: The new Democratic Congress, facing an underfunded VA, added more than $100 million through a supplemental appropriations bill to hire higher new claims reviewers to begin to address the benefits claims backlog.