WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey unveiled legislation Thursday designed to reduce the backlog of veteran disability claims — even if revising the current system requires more personnel and more dollars.
During a teleconference, Casey released the VA Backlog Working Group March 2014 Report that analyzes the many factors that have caused the backlog.
The backlog is especially high in the two process centers in Pennsylvania — up to 345 days in Pittsburgh and 309 days in Philadelphia.
“There is always some sort of bureaucracy in government that will slow things down,” Casey, D-Scranton, said. “We should be honest about that. However, those bureaucratic impediments need to be dealt with, especially those regarding veterans’ disability claims.”
Casey and five other senators introduced the legislation that would move claims faster. There are more than 524,000 claims that have been awaiting processing for six months and longer. Casey said many claims have been delayed by well over a year.
“The idea that veterans and their families have to wait a year to have their benefits processed is beyond outrage. It should never, ever take that long,” Casey said. He said the goal is to have all claims processed within 125 days.
The proposed 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act will improve the process by reforming practices in the regional claims offices and mandating greater cooperation from other federal agencies, Casey said.
The proposed legislation has been welcomed by veterans organizations in Pennsylvania and across the U.S., such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
There is always some resistance to change, Casey said, but he said the Veterans Administration has done much to reduce the backlog in recent months.
“But it hasn’t been enough,” he said. “We need systematic changes to prevent backlogs from occurring and growing.”
Casey said his staff worked on a case for a 91-year-old widow who had filed all of the appropriate documentation. He said the claim was still being processed over a year later.
“She shouldn’t have needed the intervention,” Casey said. “We found her case was still being reviewed and her resources were depleting for her assisted living arrangement. Our office submitted a Congressional inquiry and her claim was approved within a month.”
Veterans and their families shouldn’t need members of Congress to intervene to get their claims processed, the senator said. “But we will remain vigilant on this issue,” he said.
Casey said 28 percent of all constituents cases received by his office are veteran-related.
The proposed legislation has not yet been scored to determine what the cost will be to implement the changes.
“The reality is if additional resources are necessary, we’ve got to do it,” Casey said.