Peter Gaytan, center, executive director of the Legion's Washington office, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" to discuss VA's claims backlog last weekend.

Legion: Fix VA’s process, not priorities

The national debate over the Department of Veterans Affairs disability claims backlog has been raging since the issue dominated speeches at The American Legion’s 53rd Washington Conference in late February.

On March 24, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addressed the issue during his first television interview in four years on CNN’s "State of the Union" program. That same day, the Legion’s executive director in Washington, Peter Gaytan, weighed in on the same show.

Gaytan told CNN host Candy Crowley that the Legion is working with VA to fix the claims process, and that the crux of the problem is inconsistent performance at VA regional offices around the country. Once problems at those regional offices are addressed, the backlog can be reduced substantially, Gaytan explained.

American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said the idea of creating another presidential commission – a suggestion made by some other veterans advocates – had little value. "We don’t need a presidential commission to figure out how to solve the backlog," Koutz said. "Adding another layer of bureaucracy won’t get benefits to our veterans any faster."

Koutz added that the ranking of veterans based on their war era does nothing to solve the bigger problem – an inefficient processing system that The American Legion and VA are committed to improving.

"Not only does prioritization based on a war era violate federal law, it imposes value judgments on the wartime service of veterans," Koutz said. "Do we really want to make that kind of call? Is this something that would help to simplify the claims process? We need to honor the service of all veterans by giving them all fair and timely access to the benefits they are due under the law."

The American Legion has more than 2,500 accredited claims representatives across the country who assist veterans in filing their VA disability claims. It also has more than a dozen full-time employees who help veterans appeal claims that have been denied by VA.

Veterans with Apple or Android smart phones can download The American Legion’s Claims Coach app to find the nearest Legion service officer, who can assist with filing a VA claim.