YOUNGSTOWN, OH— Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make immediate and necessary changes in order to eliminate its backlog of nearly 490,000 claims filed by disabled veterans and their caregivers for services and benefits they have earned. Brown announced a plan to prevent and reduce the backlog by working to pass two key pieces of legislation.
“The VA must make immediate and necessary changes in order to eliminate its disability claims backlog,” Brown said. “It is unacceptable that Mahoning Valley veterans who selflessly serve their country have to wait far too long—even years—to receive the compensation they deserve. The Veterans Services Outreach Act would significantly reduce their wait by providing veterans the important information and assistance they need to improve their claims. Finally, the Claims Processing Improvement Act would give the VA the tools it needs to better attack the backlog so that it can be eliminated.”
Brown announced his support of two key pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the backlog. He introduced the Veterans Services Outreach Act, legislation that 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. Brown will 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.
The disability claims backlog is one of the most significant challenges facing the VA. This is due to a number of contributing factors, including: the more than a million new claims filed each year, an increase in the complexity contained in each claim, the influx of veterans returning from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the VA granting of service-connection for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure. But as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Brown has helped secure record funds and staffing for the VA to combat the backlog. While the backlog remains far too large, and changes are needed, the VA has seen a reduction of nearly 120,000 cases in just the last half year. Joining Brown to highlight efforts to eliminate the backlog was Barry Landgraver, Director of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission where today’s event took place.
“Veterans Service Commissions are aware of veterans having to wait more than two years on claims,” Landgraver said. “It’s very challenging having to keep saying it’s not done yet in 20 different ways. I appreciate Senator Brown’s efforts and legislation that supports and helps expand Veterans Service Officers’ ability to reach and help more veterans.”
Also joining Brown to discuss the backlog’s negative effects was Stuart Novotny, a local Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart who has waited nearly two years to receive his disability benefits.
“It’s a frustrating experience having to wait so long,” Novotny said. “It’s not just about me; it’s about all of the veterans who have served their country. Sherrod Brown is in each of our corners.”
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.