WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) today called upon Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki to address continued delays in processing VA claims at the Baltimore Regional Office. In their letter, the Senators call on the VA to develop and execute an action plan to address the backlog and quality issues as well as assign a senior level official to provide progress reports on the implementation of their plan. Their letter follows a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found nationally the VA has been unable to keep up with claim demands and that the Baltimore office has the highest percentage of backlogged cases nationwide.
“Since 2011, we have pressed you to develop and execute a plan to address backlog and quality issues, yet our veteran’s still experience inexcusable delays and errors in the adjudication of their claims. We cannot allow this to continue,” the Senators wrote. “Our brave veterans and their families have made every sacrifice in service to our nation. It is our duty to meet our obligations to provide these men and women the services and benefits they were promised and earned in an efficient manner.”
As a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA is experience a historic level of claims among veterans who often have severe and complex disabilities. The VA has established a goal of processing claims within 125 days by 2015. The GAO report details that currently 84 percent of claims at the Baltimore Regional Office exceed 125 days, with an average wait time of almost 12 months.
Today’s letter is part of a continued effort by Senators Mikulski and Cardin to speed up the claims process to provide our service members and their families with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. As a member of the Senate Military Family Caucus, Senator Mikulski voted to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 which would require the VA to report on what steps they are taking to reduce the backlog.
Their letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki follows:
January 28, 2013
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420-0001
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We are writing to express our continued frustration about the on-going and unresolved backlog of disability claims at the Veteran’s Benefits Administration’s Baltimore Regional Office. We request that you promptly provide us with an action plan to address this serious issue and assign a senior level official at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to communicate with us about the status and progress made under this plan.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that nationally, the VA has been unable to keep up with demand, and from 2009 to 2011, its caseload grew by 29 percent. As you are well aware, the VA is experiencing a historic level of claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, whose disabilities tend to be more complex than cases in the past. Further it is expected that claims will continue to increase as the country transitions from a decade at war.
The backlog in the Baltimore VA office is particularly bad, with an average wait time for an initial decision at almost 12 months. It has been reported that approximately 84 percent or 16,800 local claims pending in the Baltimore VA office are older than 125 days. The Baltimore office has the highest percentage of backlogged cases in the country as of Jan. 19, 2013. Furthermore, the error rate in Baltimore is also the highest in the country at 26.2 percent, compared to 13.7 percent nationally. Your agency has acknowledged that the problems at the Baltimore office are severe enough to warrant additional training and quality checks. This is inexcusable and deserves your focused and immediate attention.
Since 2011, we have pressed you to develop and execute a plan to address backlog and quality issues, yet our veteran’s still experience inexcusable delays and errors in the adjudication of their claims. We cannot allow this to continue. Please provide us with the following information:
- Has the Department of Veterans Affairs developed a plan of actions and milestones with an oversight officer or coordinators to meet the 2015 goal of processing claims within 125 days? Who is heading this effort?
- What is the status of the development of a paperless claims system?
- What is the status of developing an information sharing relationship with the Social Security Administration, as recommended by the GAO? Has there been progress in improving this relationship? Who is heading this effort?
- What will the impact of sequestration be on the timelessness of claims processes?
Our brave veterans and their families have made every sacrifice in service to our nation. It is our duty to meet our obligations to provide these men and women the services and benefits they were promised and earned in an efficient manner. We hope to work with you to improve services for our veterans in the Baltimore office and look forward to your response.
Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator