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U.S. lawmakers push to reduce VA disability backlog

WASHINGTON — Returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers are using the same antiquated disability claims process their great-grandfathers used after World War II when veterans were fewer — and computer technology was non-existent.

That isn’t good enough for a half-dozen senators who introduced legislation Thursday to move claims faster, in order to alleviate a cumbersome backlog.

More than 524,000 claims have been in queue for longer than six months, and some veterans and military widows have been waiting more than a year to receive benefits.

“We cannot say the federal government and those who enact policy in the federal government are worthy of the valor of our veterans unless we can say these claims are processed more expeditiously,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., one of six prime sponsors of the proposed fix.

With an average wait time of 364 days, Pittsburgh has the eighth-worst processing rate of the 56 offices across the country. At 97 days, Providence, R.I., has the best and at 526 days, Reno, Nev., is the worst.

“The idea that a veteran and their families have to wait a year to have their benefits processed is beyond outrage,” Mr. Casey said during a press conference in Washington. “It should never, ever take that long.”

Lawmakers want all claims to be processed within 125 days.

They say their proposed 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act will help. It’s aimed at improving veterans’ access to information about the claims process, reforming practices of regional offices and mandating greater cooperation from other federal agencies.

“Everyone from the presidents to members of Congress to the VA to the veterans service organizations must work together to solve this problem that’s been plaguing veterans way too long,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada.

Other sponsors are Sens. David Vitter, R-La.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. All are part of a work group that compiled a report on the veterans backlog, also released Thursday.

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