Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said when it comes to honoring veterans, speeches and parades are nice, but effective government services are vital.
He’s calling on his fellow lawmakers to pass the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, introduced in March, which would modify guidelines concerning the fulfillment of disability claims.
According to Casey, the average wait time for a claim at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Regional Office, or VARO, is 231 days. In Philadelphia, it’s 266 days, and the nationwide average is 240 days.
Casey said his legislation calls for better education and more assistance for veterans who are navigating the complex claims submission process.
“That means also increasing access to veteran’s service organizations to assist the veteran,” Casey said. “We’ve got veteran’s service organizations that have expertise and are strong advocates for veterans. We need to get them involved as early as possible in the claims submission process.”
The bill also asks the U.S. Government Accountability Office to audit the management structure of the 56 VAROs across the country to find and recommend solutions for inconsistencies. Casey said some VAROs are able to resolve disability claims in a more acceptable time period of a few weeks, while at others it can take nearly a year to see a claim resolved.
"If they call themselves Veterans Administration Regional Offices, they need to act that way and they need to deliver,” he said. “Not just promise, they need to deliver.”
Casey said for too long, the VA has not been honest about what its problems are and the scope of those problems, which is why the bill calls for transparency within the VA system.
“We need the VA to be honest about the size of the problem,” Casey said. “If you’re not honest about the size of the problem, you’re not going to be able to fix the problem. We need the problem to get fixed.”
The Act includes guidelines for simplifying and streamlining VA practices, and calls on all government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Social Security Administration, to make veteran’s issues a priority.
“This is not simply a VA problem,” Casey said. “This is a VA problem and a federal government problem, so … the whole federal government needs to be part of the solution.”
The recommendations included in the bill came out of the Backlog Working Group, formed by Casey and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) in May 2013. Casey said the issue is too important to wait for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to act, in part because they’ve been largely pre-occupied with solving the problems uncovered at VA healthcare facilities earlier this year.
Casey on Monday sent a letter to his fellow legislators asking them to take action on the bill, which has broad bi-partisan support and 17 other lawmakers listed as co-sponsors.