Senate directs VA to work with state agencies to clear up claims backlog

Thursday - 11/29/2012, 3:51pm EST

The Senate unanimously approved a measure requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to work more closely with state agencies to reduce a longstanding and growing backlog of disability claims.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), was included as an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

"The massive backlog of VA disability claims reminds us that far too many veterans are being underserved," Cornyn said in a statement. "This is a national disgrace, and veterans with pending claims deserve more than just rhetoric from VA headquarters in Washington."

The law requires VA to provide Congress with a plan for reducing the backlog by partnering with state and local agencies.

Cornyn pointed to the work of the Texas Veterans Commission, which launched "strike force teams" to help veterans fill out "fully developed claims." The VA bottleneck is caused, in part, by incomplete paperwork.

Even as VA has made progress in processing claims, the agency has faced a surge of new ones mostly stemming from returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of this week, the number of backlogged claims — claims pending for more than 125 days — stood at more than 604,000, according to VA data. The number of backlogged claims has more than doubled over the past two years, according to VA data.

The Senate began work on the annual defense policy bill this week. On Wednesday, the Senate removed a provision from the bill that would make it more difficult for the military to pursue biofuel development.

Still up for debate is a provision mandating a 5 percent reduction in DoD's civilian workforce, which was included in the version of the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. Sen. Ben Cardin introduced a floor amendment Wednesday to strike that provision.

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