Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 17, 2014

Reid Highlights VA Backlog Funding on Veterans Day

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Even in the midst of dysfunction, Congress has managed to keep an eye on the beleaguered veterans benefits system.

In the deal to end the government shutdown, Congress was able to prioritize funding to help improve technology to get the claims backlog under control with a $300 million funding anomaly for the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who championed the funding, highlighted that effort in a statement on Monday, Veterans Day.

“Recently, I secured nearly $2.5 billion in administrative and operating costs for the VA to help reduce the disability claims backlog in Nevada. This funding will accelerate the conversion of paper records to electronic records — eliminating the risk of future backlogs like the ones experienced recently — and allow for mandatory overtime to ensure that we can reduce the claims backlog quicker,” the Nevada Democrat said.

“And I am happy that the VA Regional Office in Reno is now reporting a nearly 58% reduction in the claims backlog in Nevada,” Reid added.

Reid held a conference call with Nevada media to tout the effort back in October, not long after the shutdown ended.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki noted the progress when speaking Monday at the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

“With the help of Congress, [the] VA’s budgets have steadily increased. Th[e] past five budget requests have sought to increase VA’s resourcing by over 50 percent, and this is what we bring to the mission,” Shinseki said. “As a result, we have enrolled two million more veterans for VA health care, dropped disability claims backlogged by over 211,000 claims in the last 230 days, reduced veterans’ homelessness and enrolled our one millionth veteran into the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education program.”

Supporters, of course, say the work is far from done.

“The improvement is not enough, but I think what is happening is that we are making some significant progress. Eric Shinseki … pledged to make significant reductions by the year 2015 and to transform the system, which has been paper, into a digital system,” Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders said on MSNBC. “I mean, bringing us into the 21st century.”

“More progress is going to have to be made because the idea that any veteran in this country is waiting one year or two years to get his or her benefit claims processes is clearly unacceptable,” the Vermont independent said.

Sanders announced Oct. 30 that he would seek to move legislation to insulate veterans programs from another government shutdown, saying the Veterans Affairs panel would take up legislation introduced by Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Arkansas Republican Se. John Boozman to provide advance appropriations for additional V.A. programs beyond medical care.

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