Department of Veterans Affairs Drops Benefits Backlog by 44%, Too Late for Some

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that they’ve reduced their backlog of unfulfilled claims by 44%. In order to be considered part of the backlog, a claim has to be stuck in the processing stage of Veterans Affairs’ systems for more than 125 days. Backlogged cases are now down to around 344,000, a significant shift from the 611,000 ignored cases at the same time in 2013.

The Reduced Backlog Comes Too Late for Many Americans

Unfortunately, while the news from Veterans Affairs is undoubtedly welcome, for over 900,000 Americans, the news comes too late. As New York Daily News reported in February 2013, that’s the number of American veterans who had died up until that point while waiting for their guaranteed benefits to come through the incompetent government entity. At that time, it was estimated that unless the VA made significant changes to their methods, 53 Americans would continue dying per day, thanks almost entirely to the failings of Washington’s bureaucratic failures.

It would be unfair to characterize the body as completely useless. As the backlog reduction shows, the department has started pushing veterans’ claims through the pipes faster. In December 2013, the VA began expanding benefits to more American soldiers with a greater range of battlefield injuries, particularly those suffering from traumatic brain injury. While the Department of Veterans Affairs can be said to be moving in the right direction, some of Washington’s most influential players have run out of patience.

Out of the Frying Pan…

After Army Spc. Ivan Lopez murdered three people and wounded 16 more in a shooting in Fort Hood, Texas yesterday, John Boehner (R-OH), House Speaker, said of the issue, “We need to continue to look at [how] to find a way to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them.” The first step, ostensibly, is to take a hard look at the speed of benefit delivery and the type of benefits being offered to help improve the health of America’s returning men and women in uniform.

Currently, a $1.1 billion package aimed at addressing mental health issues in the armed forces and general public is awaiting President Obama’s signature. Now, the Department of Veteran Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014 is being brought to Capitol Hill. If passed, the bill would improve VA transparency, strip it of much of its autonomy, and make it vulnerable to oversight of hiring and firing practices from outside regulatory forces. While debate continues over the best way to bring the department in line with its duties to the American people, there is little debate that change is a necessity.

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