Monday, August 19, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Is Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Downplaying the VA Backlog Crisis?

Et tu, Bernie? Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who since being named chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs earlier this year has not hesitated to call out the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for failing to fix the unacceptable backlog of claims for disability benefits, today welcomed a VA report that outlines progress made on this backlog. But is he downplaying the problem with the latest numbers?

As the Senator noted today, and which I reported here last week, there has been a nearly 20 percent drop in the number of backlogged claims from a peak four months ago, according to a VA analysis. These are the same numbers President Obama commented cited in a speech last Saturday.

Said Sanders today in a statement, “As chairman, I am pleased to see the VA making significant progress in reducing what everyone continues to recognize as an unacceptable backlog. No veteran should have to wait years to receive the benefits they have earned. We must remain aggressive and we intend to closely monitor the situation to ensure that the progress continues, but I am glad we are now making progress toward the goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015.”

The VA, which considers a claim to be backlogged when it has been pending for more than 125 days, announced today that as of Aug. 14, the backlog stood at 490,000 claims out of 773,000 total pending claims. But what most media outlets have failed to report, and what VA continues to ignore in its communication with the public - Sanders didn't mention this in his statement today, either - is the fact that there are 250,000 additional claims on appeal. 

Tragically, disability claim appeals, which often happen as the result of error by the VA, take four years or longer to get resolved. Bottom line: more than 1 million of our disabled veterans are still not getting the compensation they have earned.

Not that the recent reduction is insignificant. This is good news. But VA continues to downplay the real numbers. It should be noted that the VA has been handling a greatly increasing number of claims - more than 1 million a year for each of the past three years. These vets are coming both from post-9/11 veterans as well as those from the Gulf War, Vietnam War and other conflicts.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki set a goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015 by, among other things, developing a digital record-keeping system in an agency that has been mired in a 19th century paper system that has painfully slowed claims handling. Most observers say that Shinseki's goal is still unlikely to be reached. 
But any progress is a good thing. 

As for Sanders, he has been a champion for veterans, but even he sometimes sips the Beltway Kool-Aid and downplays to a degree the VA backlog, which is nothing less than a national crisis.


  1. Jamie:

    While we don't always agree on every point, when it comes to veterans, we are definitely joined at the hip. Any way you slice it, it is unacceptable. Here's how we solve this problem, once and for all. Put the people who run the food stamp program in charge of the VA. Any one who wants foor stamps is quickly processed, with or without proof of need. No backlog there, no need to take months to process, just go home and wait for them in the mail. Bernie needs to sit down with the Agriculture Department and take notes. Plus, it just might generate some votes for the party in power. The administration has doubled the number of people on food stamps and apparently, it paid off hamsomely at the polls.

    John Cook

  2. Ditto John Cook's comments above with the added codicil that the Board of Veterans Appeals use Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) modeled after the SSI courts. Truly independent Judges who are not at the beck and call of the VASEC are a must. Additionally, the adjudications cannot take another 3-4 years but must be decided promptly without endless remands.
    We now have a hidden number of 50,000 + current appeals and untold numbers (100,000?) queueing up at the Regional Offices waiting their turn for space in the BVA's in-basket in DC. Currently they sit and grow dust at the regional level as there is no place for them in DC.
    VA doesn't even discuss the new Fully Developed Claims (FDCs) in their backlog. Were they included, the amazing "results" wouldn't seem so impressive.
    VA has been cooking the books for years but came into their own with Under Secretary for Statistics Allison Hickey at the helm. Were you to have your claim "certified" for appeal today, it would still be a minimum of 18 months before you received a docket number and any significant claims development.
    If itsounds too good to be true, chances are you heard it from someone who works at VA.

  3. I give neither of the two authors any credit because their responce is political. Comparing veterans with a food stamp program and votes to the present administration taints their true motives. Wake up, and fully offer true cures and suggestions concerning the veteran backlog. Respectively submitted.

  4. FDC is great but it don't help veterans with old claims. DRO appeals need duty to assist and all the records and knowing whats needed for FDC. So eetingwhen you offer 1-year retroactive pay for FDC how many veteran don't qualify. Maybe the bonus's should be for completing claims not just working claims. God bless America and help reduce the backlog for veteran families..

  5. As a 100% service connected veteran, I have experienced the endless pain inflicted on all veterans, as a result of pursuing and waiting for disability claims; my last claim exhausted my attorney and myself for ten years, before a positive outcome in my favor. During that ten year period, I wrote to the Senate Chairman of Veterans Affairs, my Congressman, the Inspector General of the V.A., and achieved no positive outcome; from that experience alone, I recognized that the V.A. was a massive bureaucracy, managed poorly, personnel were demoralized, and there was little, if any, management planning for future systems changes that would work; Inspector Generals never investigating legitimate complaints, until it became front page news . The Veterans Administration wasted $640 million on a failed system implementation by both Bearing Point and Accenture at Bay Pines, and thus oversight of projects must also be considered a serious problem; the V.A. was well aware that beginning with Desert Storm through the current Afghan campaigns, that disability claims would be filed in monumental numbers given the length of time that American soldiers spent in the Middle East.
    The problems of the V.A. need to be evaluated by a " Think Tank" that will offer a strategic plan long-term, rather than continually slapping band aids on each and every problem that arises....which seems to be every day now. If the Honorable Secretary of the V.A., Eric Shinseki worked with some fresh ideas from a smart team, discussed these new ideas with the V.S.O.'s and Congress, then maybe the V.A. can change from a bureaucracy to a fine tuned organization proud of it's motto. There is always hope for a better V.A. system, if one is willing to dare telling the truth, regardless of being called a lunatic.....Plato.

  6. its a joke. VA wants you to use the DRO process for appeals so the BVA doesnt get backed up..however my DRO request is pending for over 700 basically if I'm denied again I just wasted two years waiting on this DRO review. I could have went right to the BVA from the get go. Plus, the RO's pull all the DRO and appeals people to work on the many "robust" programs to reduce the initial claims backlog. Like I said its a joke.

  7. But what most media outlets have failed to report, and what VA continues to ignore in its communication with the

  8. The claims process needs a major overhaul it should be as simple a comparing your induction paper work that gives you an A rating to a ETS exam recording any injuries sustained in service with a immediate rating of 30%, as your conditions worsen you can get a increase as you already have solid proof of service connection from the ETS exam. That is the current problem for most vets the game played by the VA, the vet constantly trying to prove he has service connected injury's. The proof can be starring them in the face, you could be in a wheel chair,cant walk stand sit, spine is a mess from injuries recorded in your service record, doctors nexus letters connecting injuries to your service records, then they ask you to get a sample of the dirt you fell in during your injury or something stupid like that, to prove your claim . The whole system is designed to delay, deny, stall so they can get bonuses for keeping you off of their payroll. while veterans run into massive continuing disabilities loose of jobs because of it and income, falls behind on payments , he cant find help locally to keep him from being homeless. all resources only refer them to more dead ends. Their pride crumbles before their eyes as told to go to public assistance for help .If you are a wounded soldier there is some help but don't count on it . The VA delays ,denies and advises you to their appeals process causing longer delays and no local help for veterans in crises puts them on the streets . How are they going to fix the problem when they are the problem? We are professional soldiers a profession most people shy away from but others run to in defense of their country while the ones that did not serve prosper, we are kicked down the road to the nearest bridge. while looking for help recently after being put in a wheel chair as a result of my injuries and spine surgery DEC. 5TH also due to in service injuries I have found websites loaded with gulf war vets ,afghan war vets old school vets like me begging for help from the public many with wives as their care givers who can't work, and children. While they Waite for a claim to be approved loose income, can't get help financially on the community level are also being foreclosed on. That's the reality of the claims process they continue to get paid and get bonuses for denying your clam while the vet gets to beg for help like a degenerate .its shameful but true. That simple rating income can keep a disabled veteran from being homeless, feeding his children, keeping the lights on and giving them hope when none exist.