Tester, Walsh: Defense Dept. must step up for quicker veterans benefits
Senators: ‘Benefits decisions are being unfairly and unnecessarily delayed’
(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh are telling Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that his department must do more to help veterans get their disability benefits and pensions in a timely manner.
In order for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process veterans’ disability and pension claims, it needs service members’ medical and personnel records. But according to a recent audit, the Defense Department failed to transfer 77 percent of medical records within 45 days.
“Although dramatic strides have recently been made, there is no doubt that we can do much better,” Tester and Walsh told Hagel. “While the VA is ultimately accountable, it relies upon data from other government agencies. The Defense Dept. is consistently not meeting expectations. As a result, the benefits claims decisions of thousands of veterans are being unfairly and unnecessarily delayed.”
The audit also found that of the transferred medical records, 28 percent of Army records and 11 percent of Air Force records were incomplete. Incomplete records can lead to an unfair denial or inaccurate rating of a veteran’s disability claim.
Tester and Walsh want Hagel to improve the timeliness of record transfers and provide them with information about:
• Revised instructions for record transfers
• Plans to conduct additional oversight of the record transfer process
• Policies to ensure reserve components have efficient procedures in place
• Any additional obstacles impeding the timely sharing of medical records
Tester is Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Walsh is the Senate’s only Iraq War combat veteran. Tester previously met with Hagel about the VA claims backlog in May 2013. Since that time, the backlog has shrunk, but still exists.
Tester and Walsh’s letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which is also signed by Alaska Senator Mark Begich, is available below.