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VA Responds To Sen. Toomey's Concerns On Veterans Disability Backlog

Sen. Toomey "remains concerned,” Intends To Monitor

Thursday, Jan 10

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) today sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki continuing a chain of correspondence regarding the backlog in veterans' disability claims processing.

Sen. Toomey initially contacted Secretary Shinseki in October to learn what steps the VA was taking to address the backlog. Secretary Shinseki responded in December with an upbeat assessment, but recent press reports suggest issues with a key component of the VA's efforts - the Veterans Benefits Management System.

"I share the frustration of Pennsylvania's veterans and their families with this backlog in disability claims processing," said Sen. Toomey. "I'm glad the VA is working hard to address this longstanding issue, and I will continue to monitor its progress."

The VA's annual claims are expected to reach 1,250,000 this year, an increase of almost 60 percent since 2005. Claims are also becoming more complex, with a higher number of disabling conditions claimed.

Veterans' advocates thanked Sen. Toomey for his diligence on this issue.

"I think that it is great that the VA is stepping up on trying to fix the backlog problem. I hope and pray that they will follow through on this, and I am also very glad that Sen. Toomey took a great interest in this problem and did something about it. Thank you very much Sen. Toomey," said Steven Ryersbach, Commander, AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania.

"I think the military veterans of Pennsylvania and their families can take comfort knowing that they have an elected official in Sen. Pat Toomey who takes their needs and concerns seriously. They know that Sen. Toomey understands that timely resolution of veteran claims by the VA is of critical importance to Pennsylvania's veterans. They also know that he will continue to advocate for them until each veteran receives the care he or she has earned as a result of their military service. This is another example of Sen. Toomey being there for our veterans when we need him," said Joe Eastman, retired Navy officer and Director of Veterans Services at Broad Street Ministry.

"We greatly appreciate the hard work by the Department of Veterans Affairs to catch up on the backlog of veterans claims. We know the backlog is going to continue to grow with many veterans returning from their third and fourth deployments, with still more veterans deploying as we speak. The VFW urges everyone involved with veterans' care to provide the highest possible level of care with the least possible delay and with accurate claims ratings so our heroes can receive the treatment that they deserve. Getting quick, high-quality and accurate assistance will help them to lead positive and rewarding post-military lives. We appreciate the strong work of Sen. Toomey's office to keep our veterans informed and well represented," said Ruth Fairchild, State Commander, PA Department of Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The full text of Sen. Toomey's letter to Secretary Shinseki is below:

Jan. 10, 2013

The Hon. Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary

United States Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki,

Thank you for your response to my October 2012 letter expressing my concern regarding the VA disability claims backlog.

The VA is clearly working hard to address this longstanding issue that has frustrated our veterans for many years. Nonetheless I remain concerned. A recent press report indicated the Veterans Benefits Management System experienced a dramatic slowdown in the month of December. 

I intend to continue monitoring this issue and look forward to periodic updates.

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey

US Senator

The full text of Secretary Shinseki's response to Sen. Toomey's October letter is below.

Dec. 28, 2013

The Hon. Patrick J. Toomey

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Toomey:

Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns regarding Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims processing.

Providing high-quality service to America's Veterans and their families is a priority for VA. We are committed to, and actively pursuing, comprehensive improvements to the systems Veterans use to access benefits and services. Eliminating the claims backlog is perhaps our largest and most complex challenge. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has developed, and is currently executing, an aggressive transformation plan that integrates people, process, and technology initiatives in a comprehensive strategy to meet our 2015 goal of processing all disability claims in less than 125 days with 98-percent accuracy.

The enclosed fact sheet provides additional information about our transformation plan and progress to date. VBA welcomes the opportunity to provide a briefing on our transformation initiatives and our efforts to eliminate the claims backlog. Your staff may contact Mr. Justin Brown, Legislative Liaison, at (202) 461-6020 or at justin.brown6@va.gov to arrange for a briefing.

I appreciate your continued support of our mission.

Sincerely,

Eric K. Shinseki

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