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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki about the critical need to improve the efficiency of the claims processing system by eliminating unnecessary tests and procedures that are contributing to the claims backlog at the Department. 

“I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals,” said Chairman Murray. “ I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims.” 

Chairman Murray was alerted to this issue after a number of “errors” were identified at the Seattle Regional Office during an Inspector General review.  She shares veterans’ frustrations with the disability claims system and continues to take targeted action to address the backlog and to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims decisions.      

The full text of Chairman Murray’s letter is below:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki: 

The disability claims system is under enormous pressure as the number and complexity of claims continue to increase.  I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals.  I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims.  I request that you put an end to this practice, if there is no strong medical basis for it.   

This issue was brought to my attention by a number of “errors” identified at the Seattle Regional Office during a recent Inspector General review.  In some disability cases, veterans exhibit “overlapping symptoms” meaning they have symptoms that may be attributable to more than one claimed disability.  Currently, medical providers are being asked whether they can differentiate what portion of the symptom is caused by each diagnosis and to provide an opinion as to which overlapping symptom is attributable to each disability.  In cases where a medical provider fails to address this question, regional offices are required to return examinations to the provider delaying a final decision on the claim.  The “errors” identified in Seattle were the result of a failure to return examination reports that did not address this question.     

Based on staff discussions with VA physicians, it appears that a medical provider cannot scientifically, with a high degree of certainty, attribute an overlapping symptom to one disability or another.  If a provider cannot say with a level of certainty greater than fifty percent that a particular symptom is due to only one of the overlapping symptoms, it calls into question the practice of asking a medical professional to answer this question. 

I hope you would agree that if procedures are being used that are not necessary for the proper resolution of the claim they should be eliminated.  Returning an examination for failure to address a question that is not supported by medical science delays the final resolution of a claim and unnecessarily contributes to the claims backlog. 

I am therefore requesting that you ask the Veterans Health Administration and VA’s General Counsel to answer the two questions attached to this letter.  Thank you for your service to our nation’s veterans and your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
Chairman