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April 17, 2013

Lawmakers concerned about claims backlog

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have joined with a bipartisan coalition to press for action to relieve the backlog of veterans’ disability claims.

They were among the lawmakers to write to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urging greater cooperation between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that delays in obtaining service and medical records from the Department of Defense have “significantly lengthened” the VA claims process for disabled veterans, according to a news release from Schumer and Gillibrand.

On average in New York, it takes about 470 days for disabled veterans to receive their benefits, they said.

“We don’t expect delays from our soldiers when they are shipped overseas and placed in a combat zone; we shouldn’t tolerate delays of this magnitude from the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration when our soldiers seek to use the benefits they are entitled to,” Schumer said in a statement.

“The national delays are already bad enough, but the massive delays for New Yorkers are simply beyond the pale.”

Gillibrand said veterans “who have made incredible sacrifices protecting our freedom have been waiting too long to secure the benefits they have earned. ... No veteran should have to wait more than a year to get an answer on their claim while the bills continue to pile up month after month.”

In their letter, the senators acknowledged that the federal departments have taken some steps to address the backlog, including an agreement that the Defense Department will provide complete records for departing service members in an electronic and searchable format by the end of 2013.

VA officials said that could reduce the length of time it takes to review disability claims by 60 to 90 days.

“These are important steps, but it is clear that more must be done to improve the timeliness of record exchanges and to expand cooperation between VA and the Department of Defense,” the senators wrote.

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