Senate Panel Backs More Money for VA Claims Hardware and Overtime

Maryland senator says vets shouldn’t have to face a ‘quagmire of bureaucracy.’

The Senate Appropriations Committee panel that handles funding for the Veterans Affairs Department and military construction added $20 million to VA’s 2014 budget request to buy additional hardware for the Veterans Benefits Management System, its automated disability claims processing system, and $10 million in overtime for claims personnel, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said today.

She said this additional funding is part of a 10-point plan to eliminate the backlog. VA reported 840,898 claims pending yesterday, 554,105 of which had been backlogged more than 125 days.

Mikulski said the claims problems “are even worse at VA's Baltimore Regional Office. There, the average wait time is 332 days, or 11 months. More than 16,000 claims, or 84 percent, are older than 125 days. The Baltimore Office has the highest error rate of any regional office -- 26.2 percent compared to 13.7 percent nationally.

The Senate VA budget bill also includes language that directs the department to beef up claims processor training and install quality review teams at its 56 regional offices. It also calls for establishing centers of excellence at selected regional offices for certain types of complex claims, such as those for PTSD or TBI compensation.

The bill directs VA to provide monthly performance reports to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for each regional office, including the number of backlogged claims, the average number of days to complete a claim, and error rates.

In addition, it calls for the Pentagon to provide all medical records to VA in an electronic format by the end of this year. That requirement is similar to one in an amendment to the 2014 Defense Authorization Bill passed by the House on June 14.

Mikulski said she developed her claims backlog plan because "when our veterans return from war, they shouldn't have to face a quagmire of bureaucracy in getting their claims processed.”