The consensus was clear Jan. 20 when Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., hosted a roundtable discussion in Washington with The American Legion and about 40 other veterans service organizations: the staggering backlog of VA disability claims and appeals must be substantially reduced in 2010.
Filner, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, listened to VSO representatives as they listed their highest legislative priorities; 32 of them chose the VA claims logjam as the most important issue.
"Beyond that, our key issues cover a spectrum of concerns," said Steve Robertson, director of The American Legion's Legislative Division. "We're addressing - as we always have - the welfare of all veterans." While the claims backlog is the Legion's top legislative concern, it has other priorities as well, including calling upon Congress to work with VA on health care for women veterans, timely access to quality rural health care, and homelessness among veterans and their families.
"Our agenda doesn't end there," Robertson said. "We favor enhancements to the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, such as expanding benefits to those in vocational schools. That should be part of the package, as well as some financial tweaks and enhancements."
The American Legion is also pushing for more veterans employment opportunities and training in a time of serious economic downturn. The Legion sponsored or co-sponsored 100 job fairs for veterans last year and continues to press for legislative changes that would facilitate the hiring of more veterans.
In a written document given to Filner's committee before the roundtable session, The American Legion outlined a proposal that would allow VA to bill Medicare and Medicaid for the health care of veterans enrolled in those programs. Robertson said the Legion is also urging Congress to continue and expand long-term VA health care for veterans.
In his written remarks to Congressman Filner, Robertson stated, "Mr. Chairman, The American Legion knows the time challenges facing you and your colleagues in this Second Session of the 111th Congress, but it pales (by comparison) with the real-life challenges faced by veterans and their families."
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs conducts VSO roundtables annually to assess the needs and concerns of military veterans and their families, and to help set agendas for Congress and VA.