- ‘Pocket drones’: U.S. Army developing tiny surveillance tools for the next big war
- Belgian cafe posts sign: Dogs allowed, but Jews stay out
- Gen. Dempsey: Pentagon studying Russian readiness plans not viewed ‘for 20 years’
- John McCain: Botched, two-hour execution of murderer is ‘torture’
- House GOP ready to move border bill
- Bomb squad called after live WWII artillery washes on Cape Cod beach
- HAYDEN: Intelligence, evidence and the case against Russia
- Ohio university quiz implies atheists are naturally smarter than Christians
- Rep. Henry Cuellar on border crisis: ‘Playing defense on the one-yard line’
- Activists vow to occupy fast-food restaurants to get higher pay
House impatient with VA’s disability backlog
Question of the Day
President Obama touts veterans care as a top priority of his presidency, but lawmakers increasingly weary of the long waits and hassles that veterans face in receiving disability benefits are pressuring Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinsheki to produce results.
With thousands of service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and trying to transition to civilian jobs, Mr. Obama and Congress have expanded the VA budget each year since 2009, doling out $25 billion in extra spending every year and sparing it from sequestration while other agencies have seen their budgets pinched.
But the extra money hasn’t solved problems that have plagued the agency for decades and been exacerbated by the wars. As thousands of new veterans have flooded into the system, they wait months sometimes years to have their disability claims processed.
There’s a glut of nearly a million pending disability claims at Veteran Affairs, 630,000 of which have been in limbo for more than 125 days, up from 164,000 in October 2009.
A major factor in the lengthy delays is the VA’s ongoing struggle to streamline an entirely paper-based claims system by making health records electronic and searchable and coordinating them with separate Department of Defense records.
When Mr. Shinseki testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on veteran affairs Thursday, frustrations boiled over.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, held up a photo of 37,000 folders of veteran health records stacked on top of file cabinets 2-feet high and two rows deep in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The VA’s inspector general included the photo in a 2012 report that said so much paper created “an unsafe workspace for [VA] employees and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building.”
“I’d like to ask you all if you’ve taken a look at that and if you have, how do you sleep at night?” Ms. Lowey said. “Boxes and boxes of records in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s amazing to me that these exist.”
Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, talked about a veteran who was blind in one eye and lost sight in the other eye because his doctors were waiting for lost VA health records and wouldn’t operate without knowing his medical history.
“This has human consequences it’s not just electronic communications,” he said.
Rep. John R. Carter, a Republican who represents Fort Hood Army Base in Texas, said he came to Congress in 2002 and that year listened to a similar hearing about the dire need to integrate VA and Defense health records.
Mr. Carter said he would “personally volunteer to go over to the VA and chew a— once a month” to make sure agency officials and employees are working as hard as they can to get the new electronic system fully up and running.
“I’m an old trial judge. I know how to do that pretty well,” he added.
Mr. Shinseki said that as a veteran himself, no one wants to see the backlogs cleared more than he does, and he argues the agency is making progress, noting that 20 regional offices are using a new electronic benefits system with the goal of having it up and running in all 56 by the end of the year.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- GOP senators want IG probe of Sebelius' 'Obamacare' fundraising
- Teaming up with Christie, Obama says Jersey shore 'back in business'
- No Moore: Obama flubs name of Oklahoma city devastated by tornado, calls it 'Monroe'
- Obama to Okla. tornado victims: 'We have got your back'
- Aide involved in Benghazi talking points scrubbing promoted by Obama
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
Second- and third-stringers eye 2016 if front-runner stumbles
- 'We're coming for you, Barack Obama': Top U.S. official discloses threat from ISIL terrorists
- Russia shipping sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine separatists
- NAPOLITANO: What if our democracy is a fraud?
- John McCain: Botched, two-hour execution of murderer is 'torture'
- Michelle Obama says money in politics is bad, asks donors for 'big, fat check'
- EDITORIAL: Detroit's water 'spigot bigots'
- Brian Kelly, Notre Dame ready for different route to title
- Ted Nugent loses second casino gig for 'racist remarks'
- Obama orders Pentagon advisers to Ukraine
- White House readies for House GOP impeachment push: 'Foolish' to ignore
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq