HVAC members press president on backlog

Members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs are asking President Obama to stage an intervention between the VA and DoD to help resolve the ongoing VA benefits claims backlog. In a May 22 letter to the president signed by 20 of the 24 committee members, the congressmen say, “We are writing to ask for your timely assistance in ending the bureaucratic back and forth on veterans’ records.  …this has been a long standing concern and issue that seemingly the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense cannot resolve. The technology exists, the will is fervent, and the time to fix this is now.”

The letter, over the signatures of committee chairman Jeff Miller, ranking member Michael Michaud and their committee fellows, references failure on the part of the two agencies to establish a mutually compatible, seamless, data sharing Virtual Electronic Medical Record system. The disparate systems maintained by VA and DoD, say critics, cause a significant lag in transferring servicemembers’ records from the military to the VA. This, in turn, adds to the backlog since new veterans’ claims cannot be processed until their medical record package is complete. 

The congressmen’s letter to Obama highlights this problem. “…many claims are being dramatically delayed by DoD’s lack of timeliness in providing records to VA,” it says, “…(therefore) it will be impossible to meet Secretary (Eric) Shinseki’s goal of no claims pending for longer than 125 days if VA is waiting on DoD for 175 days.” The letter continues, “We believe a timely turnaround would be DoD making the information available within 21 days of discharge or 45 days for previously separated service members.”
In a call to action, the HVAC members ask the Obama “…(to) end the back and forth amongst DoD and VA regarding the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record. The time has come for a decision to be made…. Select a system, pick a path, and move forward.”

The letter was dated on the same day that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki participated in a Capitol Hill discussion of the benefits claims backlog. At the conclusion of the session, led by Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the two secretaries pledged to continue to work on the problem with Hagel saying, “The Department of Defense is committed to doing everything it can to continue to work with the VA in processing claims speedily and efficiently to reduce this backlog.”