WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, welcomed the news on Tuesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs had reduced their backlog in disability claims to the lowest point in three years.
The VA announced that, since the backlog peaked at 611,000 just over a year ago, in March 2013, it has now reduced the amount of backlogged claims to 344,000, a reduction of approximately 44 percent. In addition, the VA said the accuracy of the decisions on disability claims has improved.
While Sanders was pleased to hear the news, he acknowledged that there was still work to be done. "The VA has assured me that it is on track to eliminate by the end of next year what everyone agrees have been unacceptable delays in processing claims," he said, "I welcome the progress that has been made, and I intend to continue working with the VA to make sure that goal gets achieved."
Sanders has proposed a comprehensive veterans affairs bill, which received support from "virtually all" veterans organizations, according to Sanders. That bill, among other things, would have required quarterly reports to Congress from the VA on efforts to eliminate the backlog by the end of 2015. In the reports, the VA would have had to detail both the projected and actual number of claims received, pending, completed, and on appeal. That bill was defeated in a procedural vote in the Senate on February 27, with the 56-41 vote falling just four votes short of the 60-vote requirement.
Sanders remains hopeful about the bill's future, however. During Sunday's four-town film screening of "Inequality for All," Sanders said that one "yes" vote had been absent for the vote, meaning he only needs three Republican votes to push through the legislation that received strong bi-partisan support from members of the Veterans Committee and veterans groups.
The conservative policy advocacy organization Heritage Action, sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, has come out in opposition to the bill, which it says will "create at least 15 new government programs and would extend VA services to all veterans, even if their injuries are not related to the service. This increased eligibility would prevent those truly in need from obtaining the assistance they need through the VA. The VA system already suffers a backlog of thousands of unattended claims. Adding new claims and programs to the already overburdened system would only make the program more inefficient and prevent real reform from occurring."
Several prominent veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and Iraq Veterans Against the War have come out in support of the bill. After the vote, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement, "Today, the Senate had a chance to put aside partisan politics and do what was right for the men and women who have sacrificed so much while wearing our nation's uniform. Instead we saw the same political gamesmanship that led our federal government to a shutdown last fall. There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That's inexcusable."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB