Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

May 8, 2013

VA backlog — Bipartisan request demands action

The region’s congressional delegation in Washington is correctly urging President Barack Obama to take action to reduce the current backlog of veterans’ disability claims. As difficult as it is to believe, the average claim now takes more than 300 days to be resolved. That’s unacceptable, and disrespectful to those brave men and women who have so proudly served our nation over the years.

Those making the request include U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. They were joined by 61 other members of the U.S. Senate — Democrats and Republicans alike — in signing the letter that was forwarded to Obama.

In the letter, the lawmakers cite long delays in cities across the country in making the case for swift action to reduce this troubling VA backlog. The Virginia-side lawmakers released a joint statement last week explaining the importance of correcting the alarming backlog. Just like West Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia is home to many military veterans. In fact, the state has 800,000 military veterans, one of the highest per-capita populations of veterans in the country, according to Warner and Kaine.  

“After a decade of war, and despite the VA’s efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog,” Warner and Kaine said in the letter to Obama. “While the average wait time for first-time disability claims currently ranges between 316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations. We need direct and public involvement from you to establish a clear plan to end the backlog once and for all.”

Kaine, the freshman senator from Virginia, has been actively involved in military and veteran activities. He is a member of the Armed Service committee, and recently introduced his first bill, the Troop Talent Act of 2013, to help ease the transition of active service members into the workforce by improving the translation of specialty military skills into civilian credentials. Kaine also is pressing Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on the persistent VA backlog and delays in mental health treatment, citing the experiences of Virginia veterans he has recently met.

The growing impatience over the VA disabilities backlog is one of the few bipartisan issues in Washington today, according to Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Rieckhoff correctly notes that veterans across the nation need to hear from Obama about how the president plans to bring the number of veterans in the backlog to zero.

We agree. Obama should respond quickly to this bipartisan request from the 65 senators.

Veterans across Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia deserve an answer. The current backlog of veteran disability claims is simply unacceptable. This problem demands immediate corrective action from the president.

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