Our duty to those who served

During The American Legion’s 53rd annual Washington Conference in February, I listened to many decision-making politicans speak on a variety of issues affecting veterans today, including employment and mental health care. However, the one poignant topic continually addressed was the VA claims backlog.

As troops are coming home from war and separating from military service, it is imperative that we, as a nation, ease their transition to civilian life. And a vital aspect of that transition is timely decisions on VA benefits claims. The backlog of pending benefits claims is now estimated to be nearing 1 million, averaging over 270 days between application and decision.

I recently met with President Obama to discuss the backlog issue because The American Legion and The White House are both disappointed that the number of undecided claims continues to grow and little progress has been made to shorten wait times. The president and I both agreed that now is not the time for finger-pointing. With that said, the Legion will continue to work diligently with VA to achieve workable solutions and ensure that its new Fully Developed Claim processing system is effective at the regional office level.

During the Washington Conference, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, promised Legion family members that lawmakers and the administration are unified in their commitment, regardless of party affiliation, to reverse the growing backlog of undecided benefits claims and to provide better access to mental health services. Miller’s remark reassures me that our elected and appointment officials in the nation’s capital are committed to provide the resources and personnel needed to tackle the claims backlog and mental health-care needs for veterans.

This is a very challenging time for VA, but it’s the duty of our nation to provide care for the men and women who have served in uniform, especially during wartime, regardless of gender and with compassion for their mental-health needs. The president fully understands that duty, and I assured him that the 2.4 million members of The American Legion are at work across the country every day to ensure that it is upheld.

As a Legionnaire, what you do each and every day for our nation’s servicemembers, veterans and their families is important. It’s important to me, it’s important to The American Legion, and it’s important to the millions of veterans who are counting on us to be their voices in Congress and to represent them in every way. I’m proud of each and every one of you. And remember that "Every Day is Veterans Day."