Tester tackling VA claims backlog with new bill
Senator, working group introduce legislation to speed up elimination of claims backlog
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is introducing new legislation to make sure the veterans disability claims backlog continues to decline and that more veterans get their benefits in a timely manner.
Tester’s bill, the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, builds on the Senator’s previous work to reduce the VA backlog by streamlining the disability claims filing process and holding the federal government more accountable for transferring information to the VA for quicker claims filing.
Tester introduced his bill during a press conference this month with his colleagues from the VA Backlog Working Group, which is led by Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
“The VA is taking steps to reduce the claims backlog, but there is much more work ahead of us,” Tester said. “Our bill lays out clear guidelines and much-needed transparency to make sure the VA and the Defense Department work together to speed up the claims process. Ensuring Montana’s veterans get the support and care they earned is a top priority, and I will keep the heat on the VA to eliminate the backlog as quickly as possible.”
Much of the current claims backlog is the result of the increasing number and complexity of veterans’ claims as service members return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In January 2013, the VA implemented a comprehensive plan to eliminate the backlog by 2015. By the end of last year, the number of backlogged claims – claims pending longer than 125 days – had been reduced by more than a third from July 2012.
But with the percentage of backlogged claims remaining the same since then, Tester is moving forward with his new legislation, which also requires the Veterans Benefits Administration to make structural changes that help regional offices process claims accurately and efficiently.
“The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act is a practical, common-sense blueprint to help veterans get their earned benefits more quickly. The bill will help reduce the VA claims backlog, improve reporting and transparency, foster quality outcomes and further cooperation of other Federal agencies with the VA on veterans claims,” said VADM Norb Ryan, USN-ret., President of the Military Officers Association of America.
At the press conference announcing the bill, Tester’s VA Backlog Working Group also released its March 2014 Report that provides an analysis of the factors that led to the VA claims backlog. The full VA Claims Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report can be found online HERE.
Tester has a long history of working to provide more resources and find innovative solutions to reduce the claims backlog. In May 2013, Tester co-sponsored The Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013 to improve the timeliness and accuracy of VA claims decisions.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester also helped secure $86 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals in the 2013 budget – an increase of $8 million over the Administration’s budget request – to combat the backlog of veterans’ claims.
Montana Senator John Walsh is a cosponsor of Tester’s measure.
Tester’s 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act is also supported by The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).