Thursday, March 13, 2008

Senate adds money to tackle VA claims backlog

50 million to speed up claims process

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 13, 2008 18:31:00 EDT

The Senate moved Thursday to add $50 million to the fiscal 2009 Department of Veterans Affairs budget specifically to speed the processing of disability claims.

By voice vote and with no opposition, the Senate revised the 2009 federal budget to include an amendment sponsored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., adding the money for VA claims processing.

The Senate’s budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 70, which lays out guidelines for federal spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, already included a $3.2 billion increase in veterans’ funding over the Bush administration request.

In total, the budget resolution would give the VA $93.6 billion in budget authority for 2009, $5.2 billion more than this year’s VA budget.

Lincoln, who sponsored similar legislation last year, said the money is needed “to help veterans receive the benefits they have earned. Veterans are not getting the benefits they need and are not getting them in a timely way.”

The $50 million increase would apply to the general administration account for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which processes benefits claims. The money is earmarked for pilot programs to find ways to cut the average waiting time for a ruling on a claim, currently six months for initial claims.

Lincoln thinks working the problem from that direction could have a bigger long-term effect than continuing to hire more people to try to whittle down the huge backlog of claims.

Earlier this week, Lincoln said she had heard complaints from veterans in Arkansas about claims taking years to get through the system. As of March 8, the VA had 666,710 claims pending for disability and survivor compensation and pensions for low-income veterans, an increase of about 40,000 compared with the same time last year.

Senate adoption of Lincoln’s amendment doesn’t mean everything is fixed; the budget resolution is just an early step in the lengthy annual congressional budget process. Once a final agreement on revenue and tax priorities is reached, the House and Senate will work on detailed agency budgets.

In the case of Lincoln’s effort, Congress would have to both authorize the additional spending and appropriate the money, and President Bush would have to approve the increases.


Throwing money at this problem is NOT the answer, it needs a new way to process the initial claims, the idea touted by DR Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School at Harvard has the best possible solution, handle the compensation claims like the IRS does income tax returns, approve them and then audit the claims that appear to have "issues" and need a review, instead of looking at 100% of all claims 4 or 5 times ignore 90% of the good claims and focus attention on the "strange" claims or fraudulent and when you find fraudulent claims you throw the book and the entire library at the offenders, less than 2% of all veterans claims are fruadulent why punish 100% of all veterans and their families while dragging out the claims process, I don't know many families that can wait 6 months to fove years for compensation, most lose their cars, their homes and the marriages and up in divorce, is this really how we want to treat these veterans?

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