The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold yet another hearing Wednesday on the Veterans Affairs Department’s troubled disability claims processing system, and Tuesday the VA launched what looks like a good news pre-emptive strike before the hearing on its VAntage point blog.
In a blog post titled “Balancing the Record on the Claims Backlog,” Alison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, wrote the department processed more than 4 million claims in the past four years, as more Afghanistan and Iraq vets filed claims and the department expanded benefits for Vietnam Veterans exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange defoliant.
Hickey, an Air Force veteran, also said VA has liberalized rules for post-traumatic stress disorder and added nine diseases associated with service in the Gulf War to the list of presumptive conditions that qualify vets for benefits.
VA has also boosted its outreach efforts to encourage veterans to apply for benefits which has “also made our effort to tackle the backlog more challenging,” Hickey said.
Tommy Sowers, VA assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, echoed Hickey in his blog post Tuesday.
Sowers, an Army Green Beret who served two tours in Iraq wrote, “First, we need to understand why the backlog has grown. After 10 years, we have ended one war and are winding down another. We have more veterans returning home with severe and complex injuries from the battlefield. In addition, this administration has dramatically expanded access to benefits for veterans suffering from Agent Orange to post-traumatic stress disorder to Gulf War Illness.”
Sowers and Hickey both view the claims backlog -- which stood at 895,838 as of Monday, with 629,585 or 70.3 percent in limbo for more than 125 days -- as “unacceptable” and promised everything will be hunky-dory by 2015, when the paperless claims processing system comes online, a constant mantra from the VA.
These blogs show that someone at the VA – Sowers? – finally decided the best defense is a good offense.