News Releases

Senator Murray Presses VA Officials on Claims Backlog

Dec 11 2013

Recent report shows government shutdown forced furloughs of thousands of Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees, jeopardized October benefits for millions of veterans and their families, and slowed the VA’s progress on eliminating the claims backlog.

WATCH hearing.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, during a hearing examining the Department of Veterans Affairs claims processing system, senior Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed her frustration with the progress in reducing the claims backlog and stressed the importance of passing her budget agreement with Chairman Paul Ryan.

“Ending the claims backlog and building a timely, accurate claims processing system is one of the absolute top priorities for our veterans,” said Senator Murray during the hearing. “So as VA continues to work to bring down the backlog, we can’t prevent them from doing their jobs.  That means keeping the government open.  As you know, Chairman Ryan and I announced our budget agreement last night. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to support this agreement so that we can get away from governing by crisis, prevent another government shutdown in January, and protect our veterans from the serious harm that we saw in October.”

According to VA testimony, the government shutdown in October forced VA to furlough 7,800 VBA employees, ended mandatory overtime for claims processors, and decreased claims production by an average of 1,400 claims per day.

Sen. Murray has been a vocal critic of the claims backlog issues facing Seattle Regional Office over the years and continues to hear from veterans frustrated with the timeliness and accuracy problems with their claims. While the latest information seems to be improving, Sen. Murray will continue to push VA to address the underlying issues with staffing and processing at the regional office so Washington state veterans can count on long-term improvement.

Senator Murray’s full remarks:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you holding this hearing.  Ending the claims backlog and building a timely, accurate claims processing system is one of the absolute top priorities for our veterans. 

“And I continue to hear frequently from veterans in my home state of Washington that they are still waiting far too long for their claims to be completed.

“I know getting this right is a top priority for the Department.  And I understand this is a complex problem that has no single easy solution. 

“So I am encouraged by the steps VA has taken so far, but we still have a long way to go.

“For example, VA’s initiative to expedite the oldest claims was a good step.  However, I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they were confused and frustrated with the provisional rating process. 

“Some believed their claims had been flat-out rejected and others did understand they have a year to submit additional evidence. 

“Secretary Hickey, we need to hear more from you today about how VA will improve outreach and communication with veterans so that future initiatives do not cause more confusion.

“And while the numbers are moving in the right direction, we need to know the necessary structural changes are being made as well. 

“This is especially important in handling the more complex claims.  The recent testimony by the Office of Inspector General shows some examples of these problems. 

“Though it is not surprising these claims take longer to rate, these are also claims for veterans who need their benefits the most. 

 “So as VA continues to work to bring down the backlog, we can’t prevent them from doing their jobs.  That means keeping the government open. 

“The entirely unnecessary shutdown a handful of Republican Members forced us into earlier this year: forced VA to furlough 7,800 V.B.A. employees, ended mandatory overtime for claims processors, and as Secretary Shinseki testified, it decreased claims production by an average of 1,400 claims per day.

“As you know, Chairman Ryan and I announced our budget agreement last night. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to support this agreement so that we can get away from governing by crisis, prevent another government shutdown in January, and protect our veterans from the serious harm that we saw in October.

“So I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and with you, Secretary Hickey, towards meeting these challenges and seeing that each and every veteran receives the benefits that they have earned.”