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Lawmaker discusses VA claims backlog with Ind. veterans

MISHAWAKA, Ind. — U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski met with local veterans Thursday to discuss the claims backlog in the Department of Veterans Affairs and other issues affecting the estimated 53,318 former enlisted men and women in the 2nd District.

According to the most recent report from the VA regional office in Indianapolis, a veteran who files a VA claim in Indiana waits, on average, 443 days for the claim to be resolved. And of the total number of outstanding claims in the state, 12,000 have been pending for more than 125 days.

Veteran Craig Jerina, who served in Vietnam, has been waiting for more than three years for his claim to be settled. As a member of the Air Force, the now-68-year-old Elkhart man injured his spine when a pole fell on his head.

"Nothing ever gets resolved," Jerina said. "They always want something else and something else and something else."

As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Walorski said she continues to put pressure on the VA to speed up the claims process. She also has sent a letter to the president urging quick action on a proposal to better facilitate the sharing of medical information between the VA and Department of Defense.

In the meantime, she said, it's important that veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, visit their local Veterans Service Office to learn more about what sorts of benefits they are entitled to and how to claim them.

"It's an information center for them, (and) it's free," Walorski, R-Jimtown, said.

The St. Joseph County Veterans Service Office is on the fourth floor of the County-City Building, 227 W. Jefferson Blvd., South Bend. Kevin Kelsheimer, a former Marine, heads the office.

Walorski said she also is in communication with the VA concerning the medical device tax included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how the tax might affect veterans' access to such devices.

Walorski is among a bi-partisan group of legislators that is co-sponsoring a bill that would repeal the 2.3 percent tax, which is opposed by orthopedic manufacturers, including those based in the southern portion of the 2nd District in Warsaw.

Walorski said access to medical devices is of critical importance to the men and women who continue to return from Afghanistan with missing limbs.

"I want know exactly how (the VA) plans to (absorb) this huge tax increase," she said.

eblasko@sbtinfo.com
 

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