The frustration among disabled veterans over the bureaucratic slowness of getting disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is understandable, but there’s also a mounting frustration with the VA among members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The disability claims backlog is part of it, but so is simply getting timely information from the VA on any issue.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is responsible for watching over and supervising the federal government’s second largest department. But, according to Chairman Jeff Miller, “When the Department drags its feet in providing information requested by Congress, it inhibits our ability to ensure America’s veterans are receiving the care and benefits they have earned.”
VA Defends Its Information Request Record
There are about 95 requests from the Committee that haven’t been addressed by the VA. Some of those requests are a year old, prompting Chairman Miller, a Republican conservative from Florida, to chide VA Secretary Eric Shinseki every week with reminder letters listing the requests, demanding action.
In defense, the VA said, “it has answered tens of thousands of congressional requests” over the last two and half years including:
- 67,000 inquires by individual members of Congress
- 1,800 briefings
- 234 testimonies at congressional hearings
- 4,470 requests by Congress in the last year
- 2,000 requests by Congress in the first six months of this fiscal year
The VA says it must balance work with “the wise use of taxpayer dollars while we continue our work together serving veterans and their families.”
VA Responsiveness Publically Challenged
Even so, the House Committee has launched a page on its Web site, called Trials in Transparency, that will keep a “running record of outstanding information requests made to VA” by both party members of the committee.
The committee’s ranking Democrat from Maine, Rep. Mike Michaud said, “Congress is committed to working with VA in an open and transparent manner. Our partnership, however, is contingent upon the department’s timely response to our requests for information, something that rarely occurs. I hope VA leadership will work to reverse this trend of unresponsiveness.
VA Leadership Under Scrutiny
VA Secretary Shinseki has been the focus of criticism in recent months, primarily over the department’s handling of the disability claims backlog as newer veterans, and older veterans able to get expanded benefits, have flooded a system transitioning to an online claims process.
However, the VA has reported progress. In a June press release the VA reported eliminating 65,000 claims from the backlog. Shinseki said, “Over the past two months, VA has been dedicated to providing earned benefits to the Veterans who have waited the longest…We’ve made great progress, but know much work remains to be done to eliminate the backlog in 2015.”
With all the challenges the VA continues to face in its service to veterans, satisfying nagging requests from the House Veterans Affairs Committee will now be under public scrutiny. Watch for updates at www.veterans.house.gov/transparency.