Archives for May 2013

Let the (Golden Age) Games Begin!

Elderly man in wheel chair throws a discus

Events include shot-put, swimming, cycling, bowling and air rifles.

Senior Veterans to Compete in 15 Events

They’re headed to Buffalo. More than 700 Veterans from across the country will participate in America’s largest sporting event for senior military Veterans.

The 27th National Veterans Golden Age Games sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) is set for Buffalo, NY, May 30 to June 4, 2013.

VA’s Golden Age Games continue to serve as a showcase for the rehabilitation value that wellness and fitness provide in the lives of older Americans.

Through this rehabilitative athletic event, VA strives to introduce older Veterans to the benefits of sports and recreation. These athletes will showcase their skills, mental toughness and physical fitness at the games.

 VA’s commitment to the preventive and therapeutic value of sports, fitness and recreation. 

Swimming, Cycling and More

Hosted by VA Western New York Healthcare System, Veterans will compete in 15 events, including swimming, cycling, horseshoes, bowling, croquet and air rifles.

The Games are a culmination of VA’s commitment to the preventive and therapeutic value of sports, fitness and recreation for America’s largest population of Veterans, those age 55 and older.

The Games have grown from 115 participants its first year to more than 700 registered to take part in 2013.

It is the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

Smiling elderly man playing checkers

Happy checkers champ from last year.

Open to Veterans Receiving VA Health Care

Since 2004, the National Veterans Golden Age Games have been a qualifier for the National Senior Games, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Through this partnership, gold, silver and bronze medalists in certain events have the opportunity to compete further among America’s elite senior athletes.

The Games are open to all U.S. military Veterans age 55 or older who are currently receiving care at a VA medical facility. For more information about the National Veterans Golden Age Games and other VA national rehabilitation programs, visit

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164 House Members Send President Letter, Calling for Action to End VA Backlog

164 House Members Send President Letter, Calling for Action to End VA Backlog

CONTACT: Carlisle Williams (212) 982-9699 or


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164 House Members Send President Letter, Calling for Action to End VA Backlog

IAVA credits House leaders, including Coffman and Murphy, for taking bipartisan action

NEW YORK (May 28, 2013) – A day after Memorial Day, 164 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from both parties wrote to President Obama urging him to “take direct action and involvement in ending the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog.” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) today thanked the members of Congress – including Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Patrick Murphy (D-PA) who helped organize the letter – for their efforts in support of veterans. IAVA was proud to work with the House members and to support the letter. In the last week, hundreds of IAVA members and supporters from across the country called their Representatives asking them to sign on to the letter.

Among the Representatives signing the letter were combat veterans: Rep. Coffman, Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller also signed the letter.

The letter was signed by 95 Republicans and 69 Democrats. A full list of signatories can be found at: The full text of the letter is below and here:

“This Memorial Day, 873,680 veterans were still waiting for disability benefits. And yet, veterans have not heard a word from President Obama on this critical issue. Veterans across the country – including in major cities where those filing for the first time are waiting more than a year – deserve to see a comprehensive road map from the White House for how the backlog will be brought to zero. That is why IAVA is proud to join more than 160 members of the House from both parties and more than a dozen VSOs in calling for decisive action and aggressive leadership from President Obama,” said IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff.

IAVA has fought to keep the backlog in the national spotlight and to ensure that leading officials take the necessary steps to bring the backlog to an end. IAVA has also put forth solutions for ending the backlog: More background on the issue and IAVA’s leadership can be found at

May, 28 2013

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to request that you take direct action and involvement in ending the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog.  

After a decade of war, and despite the VA’s efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog. While the average wait time for first time disability claims currently ranges between 316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer – 625 in Pittsburgh, 510 in Philadelphia,  681 in Reno and Las Vegas, 619 days in Los Angeles, 612 in Indianapolis, 586 in Houston and 642 in New York. In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA. 

In the last four years, claims pending over a year have grown by 2000%, despite a 40% increase in the VA’s budget. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations. We need direct and public involvement from you to establish a clear plan to end the backlog once and for all.

This country must be grateful for the safe homecoming of every single man and woman who has served in harm’s way.  Our joy at their return must be reflected in our commitment to helping all who have served.  We respectfully ask you and your administration to find a solution that ensures that no veterans are stuck in the VA backlog.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.


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May 29, 2013

HUD-VASH vouchers to build on 17 percent decline in Veteran homelessness since 2009

WASHINGTON – Approximately 9,000 homeless Veterans living on the streets and in the nation’s shelter system will soon find a permanent place to call home.  U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced today that HUD will provide $60 million to local public housing agencies across the country to offer permanent supportive housing to homeless Veterans, many of whom are living with chronic disabling conditions.

The supportive housing assistance announced today is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. Since 2008, a total of 48,385 vouchers have been awarded and 42,557 formerly homeless Veterans are currently in homes because of HUD-VASH.  

Donovan and Shinseki announced this additional support for homeless Veterans in an address to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans conference today in Washington.  Find out how much of this assistance will help homeless veterans in your area.

“It’s a national tragedy that those who served our Nation in uniform can end up living in our shelters or on our streets,” said Donovan. “Today we make another investment in meeting President Obama’s challenge that we end Veteran homelessness once and for all.”

“These HUD-VASH vouchers are a critical resource to accomplish our shared goal of ending Veterans’ homelessness in 2015,” Shinseki said. “With the continued support of President Obama, Congress, and our community partners, we will end homelessness among Veterans and provide these brave men and women with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives.”

HUD-VASH is a critical part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to end Veteran and long-term chronic homelessness in 2015.  Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local communities to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women. HUD’s annual “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons and families for 2012 found that Veteran homelessness fell by 7.2 percent (or 4,876 people) since January 2011 and by 17.2 percent since January 2009.  On a single night in January 2012, 62,619 veterans were homeless.

The grants announced today are part of $75 million appropriated this year to support the housing needs of homeless veterans.  Local public housing authorities provide rental assistance to homeless Veterans while nearby VA Medical Centers (VAMC) offer supportive services and case management.  This is the first round of the 2013 HUD-VASH funding.  HUD expects to announce more HUD-VASH funding this summer.

VAMCs work closely with homeless Veterans then refer them to public housing agencies for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of the homelessness and the need for longer term more intensive support to obtain and maintain permanent housing.  The HUD-VASH program includes both the rental assistance the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.

 Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.  VA offers eligible homeless Veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.


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            HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business. More information about HUD and its programs is available at and  You can also follow HUD on twitter @HUDnews, on facebook at, or sign up for news alerts on HUD’s Email List.


            VA is the federal government’s second-largest cabinet office.  Secretary Shinseki has outlined three key priorities for the department: increase Veteran access to VA services and benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end Veteran homelessness.  VA provides health care to more than 6 million people each year, in 91 million outpatient visits and 960,000 hospitalizations. This year, VA will provide over $1 billion in specialized homeless program funding, more than $58 billion annually in disability pay and pensions to 4.5 million Americans, $10 billion in educational assistance, $1 billion for home loans and $2.6 billion for life insurance. More information about VA is available at

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Surviving a Stroke

A Veteran and his doctor talking

Veteran Tomas Benavides discusses his stroke with Dr. Pitchaiah Mandava.

DeBakey VA Stroke Team in Action

Vietnam Army Veteran Tomas Benavides said his legs felt like cement. And then he went down on his knees. It was a stroke. His wife rushed him to the hospital.

Dr. Pitchaiah Mandava said that Benavides had suffered from an occlusion of a major blood vessel supplying the balance and coordination part of his brain, causing a severe headache, vertigo and lack of coordination.

Mandava is Stroke Center Director at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

He noted that, “These symptoms are frequently not recognized as a stroke until brain swelling is severe, but in this case, his primary treating team recognized the possibility of a stroke and immediately activated the Stroke Team pager so that he was promptly evaluated.”

An emergency MRI revealed the stroke and Benavides was transferred to the Medical Intensive Care Unit where Neurologists, Intensive Care Specialists, Neurosurgeons and Vascular Surgeons jointly cared for him, treating him with medications to reduce brain swelling and to keep his blood vessels from occluding further.

Benavides survived the worst of the brain swelling period and after seven days was transferred to the Neurology/Medicine Stepdown Unit and subsequently to the Neurology unit where he underwent physical therapy. Intensive medication therapy was begun to prevent a second stroke.

 My four grandkids are pretty happy that I’m still here. 

Benavides showed major recovery of function and eight months later is essentially free of all stroke symptoms.

The 70-year-old Veteran says the staff at the DeBakey VA Medical Center was “the greatest…they saved my life.”

After his Army tour, he worked as a pharmaceutical chemist and he was very interested in the medications he received during his three weeks in the hospital. He remembers that, “The nurses were excellent and I really appreciate their care. My four grandkids are pretty happy that I’m still here.”

How has his life changed? “Well, I had to slow down. And now I watch my diet.”

A Veteran drawing wildlife

Benavides happy to have another chance at his hobby of drawing wildlife.

A field radio operator in the Army, Benavides is an artist and enjoys drawing wildlife and spending time spotting birds. His hometown is Benavides, Texas, named after his grandfather who donated 400 acres so that a railroad track could be built across his land.

According to Dr. Thomas Kent, DeBakey VA Neurology Care Line Executive, “Our Stroke Center was developed to coordinate the care of the stroke patient from the acute setting to secondary prevention and to provide hospital wide education on early recognition of stroke and activation of the dedicated stroke team.

“Sergeant Benavides benefitted from the expertise of these outstanding clinicians and the experience they have in working together to manage the most complex stroke patients.”

Benavides agrees: “The VA hospital is excellent. I found everybody very professional and would recommend it to all Vets.”

Houston VA Awarded Two-Year Re-Certification
for Advanced Primary Stroke Center

The Joint Commission recently awarded a two-year re-certification of the Advanced Primary Stroke Center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

The DeBakey Medical Center earned the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center in 2011 and was awarded the distinction of being the first VA medical center with this designation.

Each year about 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke, the nation’s third leading cause of death. On average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of a stroke every 4 minutes. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States, with about 4.7 million stroke survivors alive today.

“I am very proud the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has received such important recognition,” says Adam C. Walmus, DeBakey VA Director. “Re-certification by the Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center recognizes our hospital’s commitment to providing outstanding, high quality care, treatment and services to our Nation’s heroes.”

The Joint Commission’s Primary Stroke Center Certification is based on the recommendations for primary stroke centers published by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association’s statements and guidelines for stroke care. The Joint Commission launched the program in 2003.

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A Memorial Day Message

A Memorial Day Message

May 24, 2013

From Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki

WASHINGTON — This weekend, Americans in large numbers will visit our national cemeteries and other final resting places to honor their loved ones, their friends, neighbors, colleagues, even some unknown to them—men and women who gave their lives in defense of our Nation. 

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on their service and their sacrifice, even as our Armed Forces are performing difficult and dangerous missions in distant lands.  They continue to safeguard our American way of life.    

Memorial Day is set aside to honor the more than one million of our fellow citizens who have fallen in battle since the founding of our Republic.  Their service helped to shape us as a Nation and secured, for us and our friends and allies, our security in a troubled world.  Except for their service, we all would be facing different circumstances today. 

During World War II, American forces literally helped to save the world from tyranny and oppression.  Those who marched to the guns in the 1950s saved a Nation.  And the most devastating conflict in our history, the American Civil War, preserved a Union that would, within a hundred years, emerge as a world power, dedicated to preserving freedom and liberty. 

Every generation has done its duty, just as today’s 1.37 million members of our Armed Forces are doing theirs under difficult circumstances.

On Memorial Day, their service in uniform stands in contrast to our ball games and backyard barbeques.  Our defenders are ordinary Americans performing extraordinary deeds, bearing all the risks for our way of life.  In remembering the Fallen, we honor the men and women who kept faith with our enduring principles of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  We remember, as well, those who keep the faith today and honor their patriotism, valor, dedication, and loyalty.

A memorial written by Civil War-era orator, Robert Green Ingersoll, eloquently captures the significance of Memorial Day for all generations of our Fallen:

They died for liberty—they died for us.  They are at rest. 

They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless … Earth may run red with other wars, but they are at peace.

In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.

I join with all VA employees in honoring those who have been called to the Altar of Freedom, in offering prayers for them and their families, who sacrifice still today, and in asking for the Almighty’s continued blessings on this great Nation.

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Veterans Launch “Go Silent” Campaign to Honor Fallen on Memorial Day

Veterans Launch “Go Silent” Campaign to Honor Fallen on Memorial Day

CONTACT: Carlisle Williams (212) 982-9699 or


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Veterans Launch “Go Silent” Campaign to Honor Fallen on Memorial Day

At, Americans Pledge to Observe National Moment of Silence at 12:01 p.m. EDT Monday

NEW YORK – (May 23, 2013) Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, launched a powerful new campaign asking all Americans to “Go Silent” this Memorial Day in honor of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  

The “Go Silent” campaign encourages Americans to pledge – at – to pause and be silent for a full minute at 12:01 p.m. EDT on Memorial Day.  The online pledge allows for the pledge to be made in honor of a fallen veteran. IAVA members and supporters have embraced technology like the Go Silent website for a shared nationwide experience.

The Go Silent campaign is part of IAVA’s commemoration of Memorial Day. Across the country, veterans are organizing events and activities in observance of Memorial Day.  On Monday, IAVA members will participate in wreath-laying events at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC and at the Intrepid and 9/11 Memorial in New York City. IAVA members are also organizing Memorial Day events in Chicago, Dallas, Daytona Beach, DeKalb County (GA), Ft. Collins (CO), Grand Island (NE), Los Angeles, Mills (MA), Orlando, and Santa Monica.

“For veterans and grateful citizens, Memorial Day is a hallowed day we set aside to remember all those American who have died to protect our freedoms. IAVA encourages all Americans to stand with us this Memorial Day and pledge a moment of silence at 12:01 p.m. EDT in honor of the bravery, courage, and devotion to country our veterans have shown,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA.

On Monday, IAVA members and supporters will be at  Arlington National Cemetery, where IAVA Leadership Fellow and Navy veteran Angela King will be laying the Wreath of Remembrance at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  In New York City, IAVA Chief of Staff Derek Bennett will be participating in a wreath laying ceremony on the Intrepid and IAVA staff member and Tuesday’s Children Board Member Derek Coy, a Marine veteran of Iraq, will represent IAVA at a wreath laying ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial.

“I am deeply honored to participate in the Arlington National Cemetery observance to remember those we have lost,” said Angela King, who was deployed as a medic three times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Memorial Day is a powerful day for veterans and we appreciate all those who Go Silent with us.”

Note to media: Please contact if you would like to interview a veteran participating in the Arlington Cemetery and Intrepid events or to learn about other Memorial Day observances across the country.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. IAVA recently received the highest rating – four-stars – from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. 

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Ahead of Memorial Day, Calls Grow for Decisive Presidential Action to End the VA Backlog

Ahead of Memorial Day, Calls Grow for Decisive Presidential Action to End the VA Backlog

CONTACT: Carlisle Williams (212) 982-9699 or


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Ahead of Memorial Day, Calls Grow for Decisive Presidential Action to End the VA Backlog

584,308 veterans still waiting more than 125 days for disability claims decisions 

 NEW YORK (May 22, 2013) – In the lead-up to Memorial Day, there is growing momentum and focus on efforts to end the Department of Veterans Affairs disability claims backlog. According to numbers released by the VA yesterday, 873,680 veterans are waiting for disability benefits claims. Sixty-seven percent of those veterans (584,308) have been waiting for more than 125 days for decisions and care. 

On the same day that Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke on Capitol Hill and the Department of Defense announced plans to seek new software to integrate military health records with VA, members of Congress from across the aisle are speaking out and urging decisive action to help bring the backlog down. 

The House Veterans Affairs Committee this morning held a hearing – where Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) testified – to examine a new Administration proposal to expedite older claims.  The House Minority, including Leader Pelosi, held a press conference outlining legislation to lower backlog. And a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives circulated a letter calling for President Obama’s direct involvement and leadership to end the backlog. Earlier this month, 67 Senators from both parties sent the President a similar letter calling for his leadership. More than a dozen Veterans Service Organizations have also urged the President to step forward to lead. Additionally, yesterday, the VA announced, with Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and The American Legion an effort – the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Community of Practice – to help reduce the backlog.

“Days before Memorial Day it’s good to see Washington respond to our veterans and focus on the backlog. We appreciate the Department of Defense move to upgrade its electronic health records and the VA’s continued work on the backlog. Unfortunately, the Administration has talked about integrating health records since 2009 with no progress.  There are real doubts about whether the VA is on track to meet its own deadline of ending the backlog by 2015.  And we still have not heard a word from the President on this critical issue. The reality is that while veterans are waiting more than a year in major cities, they still have not seen a comprehensive road map to end the backlog. That is why we join members of Congress and more than a dozen other VSOs in calling for decisive action and aggressive leadership from the President,” said IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff.

IAVA has fought to keep the backlog in the national spotlight and to ensure that leading officials take the necessary steps to bring the backlog to an end. Since IAVA held its advocacy event, Storm the Hill, in March 2013, the backlog of claims has decreased by 45,277 claims or 3.2 percent, from 629,585 to 584,308. To eliminate the backlog by its public goal of 2015, the VA must reduce the backlog by 4,712 claims every week, a reduction the VA has only met eight times in the last 56 weeks.  Today, the Center for Investigative Reporting reported that the VA has “systematically missed nearly all of its internal benchmarks” for reducing the backlog and “has quietly backed away from repeated promises to give all veterans and family members speedier decisions by 2015.”

“The reduction in the backlog for six consecutive weeks now is certainly progress. But we will continue fighting until the backlog is at zero and we still have a long way to go.” said Rieckhoff. “This weekend, veterans will be organizing across the country to commemorate Memorial Day. We stand ready to work with the President to honor all veterans and end the backlog.”

More background on the issue and IAVA’s leadership can be found at 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. IAVA recently received the highest rating – four-stars – from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. 

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FOX News: Power Play May 5, 2013

FOX News: Power Play May 5, 2013

May 10, 2013

Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino sits down with Chris Stirewalt to discuss the Virginia backlog.

Watch the latest video at <a href=””></a> [link]

New York Times: Criticism of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mounts Over Backlog in Claims

New York Times: Criticism of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mounts Over Backlog in Claims

By: James Dao

May 19, 2013

The 30-second Web video has the edgy quality of a campaign-season attack ad, including ominous music, grainy photos and a closing demand: “It’s time for new leadership.”

But the target is not an elected official, or a politician at all. It is President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki, the man being held accountable for his overwhelmed agency’s problems.

And for one problem in particular: “the backlog,” the huge and probably still growing inventory of claims for disability compensation filed by wounded or ill veterans. As of Monday, just under 600,000 claims qualified as backlogged, meaning they had been pending for over 125 days.

Though the numbers have grown, delays in processing disability claims are nothing new, and neither are complaints about the backlog. Just last year, some veterans advocates tried to make the backlog a presidential campaign issue. They failed. But this year, something changed: the criticism grew louder and perhaps more partisan, and began reaching a wider audience.

A new conservative-leaning nonprofit organization, Concerned Veterans for America, produced the Web video calling for Mr. Shinseki’s resignation and is sponsoring a similar online petition, which has been signed by more than 9,000 people. Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and Marine Corps veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has joined the call.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the largest organization representing the new generation of veterans, has also made the backlog the focus of aggressive lobbying in Washington, writing a letter signed by 67 senators that urges Mr. Obama to “take direct action” to resolve the problem. The group has stopped short, however, of calling for Mr. Shinseki’s resignation.

And perhaps most embarrassing for the administration, the backlog has become a repeated topic of outraged ridicule on “The Daily Show,” on which the host, Jon Stewart, has skewered the paper-choked bureaucracy in a series titled “The Red Tape Diaries.”

Describing Mr. Shinseki’s promise to end the backlog in two years, Mr. Stewart — reflecting the sentiment of many veterans — sarcastically observed in one segment: “In only two more years, they are hoping to have you wait only four more months.”

Mr. Shinseki, a former four-star general and Army chief of staff, remains deeply respected in Congress and, for the moment, secure in his job. The White House has expressed support for him, as have many mainline veterans organizations, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Even the Republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, called him “an honorable, trustworthy gentleman” in an interview. But Mr. Miller raised questions about the secretary’s staff, calling for the firing of Allison A. Hickey, the under secretary who oversees disability compensation.

The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Bernard Sanders, an independent of Vermont, also praises Mr. Shinseki for doing something rare in Washington: setting a deadline, in this case to end the backlog by 2015, mainly by replacing paper claims with a digital process.

“How many secretaries or presidents say, ‘I’m going to do something by a certain date?’ ” Mr. Sanders said in an interview.

But even if Mr. Shinseki stays in his job, the sharper tone of the criticism suggests that the department, the second largest in the federal government, after the Department of Defense, will continue facing closer scrutiny than in the past.

“You never had Jon Stewart talking about this before, and that is huge,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. “The situation is so bad it makes for great comedy.”

Intensified media coverage is part of the new equation. Many newspapers and television news programs have done major reports on the backlog this year. And a nonprofit news organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting, has created a database loaded with documents, statistics and an interactive map showing the varying processing times for disability claims at the department’s 58 regional offices.

There also is a generational component to the debate. Older, more traditional veterans groups have supported Mr. Shinseki and endorsed his plan for ending the backlog. Those groups agree with him that the backlog is less about incompetence and more about an antiquated processing system overwhelmed by new veterans, aging veterans and expanded benefits programs.

Bob Wallace, the executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Washington office, praised the administration for investing money on automating the claims system. “The backlog has been a problem for years,” he said. “I hate to say this as an advocate, but fixing it is not going to happen overnight.”

But many younger veterans have been more impatient for change. And those younger veterans have been aggressive about raising the backlog issue online, on television and in Washington. “For people in their 20s, the idea that we can’t get this technology updated seems ridiculous,” said Mr. Rieckhoff, who served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq.

Supporters of Mr. Shinseki say partisan politics has also come into play, with Republicans using the department’s problems to raise broader complaints about big government and the Obama administration.

Mr. Hunter, for instance, said the agency — which has had major budget increases every year under Mr. Obama — did not need more money, but greater efficiency. “It needs to be run as a business, one that provides services,” he said in an interview. “Insurance companies do it all the time

Concerned Veterans for America also has a conservative tilt, calling for deficit reduction, criticizing stimulus spending and opposing deep cuts to the Pentagon budget.

The group’s executive director, Pete Hegseth, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the Senate last year in Minnesota. He is also the former executive director of Vets for Freedom, a nonprofit group that supported the war in Iraq and criticized Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Mr. Hegseth declined to disclose his organization’s funding sources. But he denied having partisan intentions, noting that the group had joined forces with Mr. Rieckhoff, widely viewed as more liberal, on the backlog. And he said its pressure tactics had already had an impact, as Ms. Hickey recently announced plans to speed the processing of claims that are over a year old.

“This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a younger, more aggressive veterans group not allowing the status quo to continue,” he said in an interview. “Why should we reflexively defend a leader who hasn’t gotten it done?”

Mr. Shinseki declined to be interviewed for this article. His spokesman, Josh Taylor, released a statement saying Mr. Shinseki “knows that any time you set out to make major transformational changes, criticism is part of the job.”

The statement added, “He is driving the organization hard toward aggressive goals, he knows we have more work to do and he is confident that we will end the backlog in 2015.”


AP: VA Requiring Employees To Work Overtime

AP: VA Requiring Employees To Work Overtime

By: Kevin Freking

May 15, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 10,000 workers who handle disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs will be required to work at least 20 hours of overtime each month in an effort reduce a sizable backlog, the department announced Wednesday.

The overtime requirement will last through September and comes as many federal workers face furloughs because of mandatory budget cuts. The VA was exempt from those spending reductions.

“We need to surge our resources now to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog,” said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the VA.

The VA has come under fire from veterans groups and members of Congress for the number of claims pending longer than 125 days. About 570,000 disability claims fall into that category, nearly two-thirds of all claims pending.

The advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the VA’s announcement was good to see, but it also emphasized that more was needed and renewed a call for President Barack Obama to get more directly involved.

“Bringing the backlog down to zero will not be achieved piecemeal, and unfortunately there is no sign that the administration will bring together VA, DOD and other agencies to develop a sustainable plan to address the structural problems that have created the backlog,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the group’s CEO and founder. “Instead of chipping away around the edges, veterans need a comprehensive strategy.”

Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries and illness incurred or aggravated during their active military service. The amount of the compensation is based on a rating assigned by the VA.

The VA announcement was the second in the past month designed to help veterans with longstanding disability claims. It recently announced that it would be expediting claims decisions for veterans who had been waiting more than a year. Veterans whose claims are granted would get compensation immediately. Veterans whose claims are denied will have a year to submit more information before the VA makes a final decision.

The department has made some progress in recent weeks on claiming pending longer than 125 days. The backlog for such claims is now down about 1,000 from where it was at this time last year.


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