WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki to make immediate and necessary changes in order to eliminate the backlog of more than 368,000 disability claims filed by veterans for services and benefits they have earned. Brown also pressed Sec. Shinseki on the VA goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2015 and efforts by the VA to eliminate claim disparities between state VA rating agencies.
“Veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country should not have to wait six months or a year to receive the benefits they earned,” Brown said. “While the VA has made significant improvements to the system, more than 368,000 claims are still pending longer than four months. This is unacceptable and the VA must take more aggressive actions to end the claims backlog.
Brown has pushed the VA to address disparities in the disability claims rating system. In 2012, Ohio ranked 40th in the United State for claims ratings, illustrating that the same injury in 39 other states provides a better claims rating than the same injury in Ohio.
“Additionally, veterans who serve their country in order to protect our freedoms deserve a VA that serves as an advocate for their needs,” Brown continued. “That means creating equitable rating systems that judge claims fairly, and it means a VA that works to keep all veterans off the street. I look forward to working with Sec. Shinseki to achieve these important goals.”
In a February meeting with Shinseki, Brown pressed for updates regarding the VA’s 2015 imposed deadline to end the disability backlog and eliminate veteran homelessness. Brown called on the VA to implement key strategies incorporated in his Veterans Services Outreach (VSO) Act and Homeless Veterans Prevention Act in an effort to help accelerate the VA’s timeline.
Eliminating the Disability Claims Backlog:
The disability claims backlog is one of the most significant challenges facing the VA. In response, Brown has helped secure record funds and staffing for the VA to combat the backlog. In November 2013, Brown announced that key provisions of his Veterans Services Outreach (VSO) Act passed the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. The Act would require the VA to notify veterans filing claims electronically that they can receive help and important time-saving information that could significantly reduce their wait time. In August, Brown announced that he would also work to pass the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013, legislation that would hold the VA accountable by requiring it to publically report information on both its projected monthly goals and actual production so that Congress and the public knows if the VA is working toward eliminating its backlog. The bill would also establish a task force to hire and train claims processors, and develop tactics to attack and eliminate the backlog.
Ending Veterans Homelessness:
In December 2013, Brown announced his support for a bipartisan plan that provides additional resources to veterans in need of transitional housing programs, improves homeless prevention programs, and expands existing programs to help get veterans off the street and into safe, stable housing.
The Homeless Veterans Prevention Act would improve prevention programs and increase the availability of transitional housing for female veterans. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Improve homelessness prevention programs by allowing the VA to develop public-private partnerships focused on increasing the availability of legal services available to homeless veterans to help obtain proper identification, representation before the court system, and assistance with legal issues associated with housing and family law. A recent VA survey found that lack of legal services was one of the top four unmet needs among homeless veterans.
- Increase transitional housing programs by establishing strict standards for grantees to meet the needs of female veterans by providing gender-specific housing. The Act would also help keep families together by allowing dependents in to transitional programs.
- Expand existing programs by increasing the current eligibility for the Homeless Veterans Dental Program to include HUD-VASH participants and reauthorizes several current VA programs that fund drop-in centers, rapid re-housing and transitional programs, and employment assistance.
Brown is the only Ohio Senator to serve a full term on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is Co-Chair of the Senate Air Force Caucus. He is also an original cosponsor of the VOW to Hire Heroes Law, which offers job retraining assistance to veterans between 35 and 60 years of age.