From: Joel Tyner
Subject: Colleagues-- re: Memorial Day-- check out this from http://www.MarineCorpsTimes.com ...
Date: May 30, 2011 3:41 AM
Please let me know if you'd be interested in co-signing a letter or co-sponsoring a resolution pushing Congress to end the current veterans' disability claims backlog; also-- see below-- initiative to make sure veterans' disability benefits have COLA's...
Happy Memorial Day...
[recall Feb. 19th Poughkeepsie Journal editorial on this-- "Keep Pushing VA to Handle Backlog"]
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From http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2011/04/usat-backlog-buries-veterans-claims-040711w/ :
VA backlog buries veterans' claims
By Gregg Zoroya - USA Today
Posted : Thursday Apr 7, 2011 6:23:51 EDT
WASHINGTON - The number of veterans' disability claims taking more than four months to complete has doubled, prompting criticism from veterans and Congress that the Veterans Affairs Department failed to prepare for a rise in cases it knew was coming.
"Without question, I believe that the VA disability claims system is broken," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.
The number of claims that take more than 125 days to decide has gone from 200,000 a year ago to 450,000 today, according to administration budget documents. As a result, veterans must wait even longer to receive payments for disabilities.
VA says the delays are due in part to a generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with more complex claims, and a decision two years ago to expand compensation for Agent Orange-related illnesses. Claims also increase in a poor economy.
But veterans groups and Murray said VA was aware that claims would rise.
"The explosion in the claims backlog is another predictable, preventable insult to thousands of veterans of all generations," said Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
It now takes VA six months on average to process each compensation demand for illnesses or injuries. And the delay will reach an eight-month average next year, according to documents.
VA said it has added staff and expanded automated record-keeping but is dealing with an unprecedented amount of work.
"I think the disability determination system does not deliver decisions in as timely and uncomplicated a manner as people would like," said Tom Pamperin, a VA undersecretary for policy.
An increase was predicted by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in 2009, when he expanded the number of illnesses which could be linked to Agent Orange.
The number of pending claims for compensation has grown from 448,000 last April to 756,000 today.
"The VA knew that more Agent Orange claims would be coming in ... but the claims have still overwhelmed the new caseworkers that Congress provided funding to hire," Murray said during a confirmation hearing for a new VA benefits chief.
VA added 3,000 claims processors last year, for a total of 14,000. But Pamperin said the work has been more labor-intensive than expected.
"We are working with a relatively inexperienced workforce. They make mistakes," he said.
Murray described a visit to a Seattle claims office where it took nine months to process a claim from a terminally ill veteran. He died three days before the case was resolved, she said.
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West Virginia Senator backs increase of veterans' benefits
On behalf of Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law posted in Veteran's & Military Benefits on Thursday, May 19, 2011
People who receive Social Security benefits are entitled to a Cost-of-Living Adjustment, or COLA, to their benefits when there is a rise in the Consumer Price Index. The purpose of the adjustment is to make certain that benefits keep up with the pace of inflation. Although Social Security beneficiaries did not see a COLA for 2011 or 2010, if there is an increase in the Consumer Price Index, they could see an increase in their benefits for 2012.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for veterans who receive disabled veterans' benefits. Presently, veteran's benefits do not automatically increase to keep up with the consumer price index. However, several key lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are introducing legislation that could change that.
Senator Patty Murray introduced Senate Bill 3107 earlier this month. Fourteen other Senators, including West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, joined Senator Murray as cosponsors of the bill. Senate Bill 3107, also known as Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010, would require an automatic COLA to benefits for disabled veterans as well as a COLA dependency and indemnity benefits to surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans.
The COLA for veterans' benefits would be tied to the same formula that is used to determine adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries. If Senate Bill 3107 is passed by the Senate and the House and then signed by President Obama, it would go into effect on December 1 of this year.
According to Senator Murray, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010 could help as many as 3.5 million disabled veterans and surviving family members in 2012.
Source: GovernmentExecutive.com, "Senators seek cost-of-living raise for disabled vets," Emily Long, 5/6/2011