WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is calling for action from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on what it will do to process veterans’ disability appeals faster. The agency has hundreds of thousands of pending appeals, and veterans often wait over three years before receiving a decision from the VA.
“After all they’ve sacrificed for our country, many veterans in Missouri and across the country have to wait years before hearing back from the government,” McCaskill said. “Veterans can’t afford to wait over three years for a decision from the VA while they struggle to make ends meet. Our veterans deserve better than this, and the VA needs to continue taking necessary steps to reduce their disability appeals backlog.”
At the end of FY 2015, the VA had more than 427,000 pending appeals. Veterans can appeal claims to the Veterans Benefits Administration—where veterans wait an average of more than three years for a decision, and then to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals—where veterans wait an average of more than five years for a decision. “For many veterans applying for disability benefits, these delays can exacerbate existing challenges due to age and disability status,” wrote McCaskill in her letter to VA Secretary David J. Shulkin. The Government Accountability Office made a number of recommendations to the VA about how to reduce the backlog and process appeals faster, but the VA said that additional action is not necessary. McCaskill is calling for answers on why the VA dismissed the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations and what the agency is doing to improve the appeals process.
The daughter of a World War II veteran, McCaskill has a long history of standing up for veterans. She is seeking answers from the VA after a recent report finding that thousands of servicemembers with PTSD or other mental health conditions who received “other than honorable” discharges were potentially barred from receiving mental healthcare and other benefits. Following issues with construction at VA facilities in Missouri, McCaskill called for answers on what the agency’s Inspector General is doing to improve oversight over major construction projects.
Aiming to continue improvements to the quality of customer service at statewide VA facilities, McCaskill created a “secret-shopper program,” the Veterans’ Customer Satisfaction Program, which allows veterans to share timely, confidential feedback about their VA health care visits, and helps provide oversight and accountability for VA health care facilities. The program is now active in five regions: St. Louis; Kansas City; Columbia; Poplar Bluff; Southwest Missouri (Fayetteville). Last year, following advocacy from McCaskill and more than one-thousand rural veterans in Missouri, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would expand the hours of operation at the Salem Veterans Clinic to be open Monday through Friday.
Read McCaskill’s letter to the VA Secretary HERE.