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 press@iava.org

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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 http://iava.org/endthevabacklog. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) 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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