Wounded warriors deserve speedy disability claims process
Sen. John Cornyn
Updated 9:31 pm, Monday, December 10, 2012
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Texans are proud that our state has the second-largest population of U.S. military veterans in the entire country, behind only California. Unfortunately, far too many of those brave Americans have been forced to wait months or even years to get their rightful benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This is a national scandal. Our men and women in uniform have made tremendous sacrifices to ensure that the rest of us can enjoy freedom and prosperity. After coming home, the wounded warriors of Afghanistan and Iraq deserve to have their disability claims processed in a timely manner. I am outraged at how many of them have been kept in limbo despite suffering major physical and psychological injuries.
How bad is the problem? Roughly two-thirds of all pending VA disability claims — more than 602,000 claims overall — are now “backlogged,” which means they have been pending for at least 125 days. Over the last two years, that number has more than doubled.
Texas is home to 1.7 million veterans, so we face an especially daunting challenge. As of Dec. 1, there were 27,636 backlogged disability claims — out of 37,567 pending claims in total — at the Houston VA Regional Office, which covers the San Antonio area. That was the fourth-largest backlog among all regional offices nationwide; the worst backlog can be found at the VA office in Waco.
In other words, tens of thousands of Texas veterans have now been waiting more than 125 days to be compensated by the VA. It's simply disgraceful.
Thankfully, Texas officials have taken concrete steps to begin mitigating the problem. This past July, a state agency called the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) announced that it would be partnering with the VA to assist veterans with backlogged claims and help other veterans file “fully developed” claims, which are easier to process. Its goal is to reduce the Texas backlog by 17,000 in one year.
The commission launched these initiatives with the full support of the VA. And in recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, a senior VA official named Diana Rubens said the TVC-VA cooperation is already yielding positive results. Her sentiments were echoed by John Limpose, director of the Waco VA Regional Office, who affirmed that the “TVC is working very, very well” both with his colleagues and with the VA office in Houston.
In hopes of replicating the Texas model nationwide, I introduced an amendment to the new defense authorization bill that would require the VA to devise a plan for tackling the national claims backlog through partnerships with outside entities such as the TVC. The amendment won unanimous support from my colleagues in the U.S. Senate and passed by a vote of 95 to 0. I am optimistic that it will soon begin making the VA claims process much more efficient and much more equitable.
America's military veterans kept their sacred commitment to our country, and we must never forget our own commitment to them.