Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was in Austin today to meet with veterans and veteran service organizations regarding the ongoing VA claims backlog. Central Texas veterans experience some of the longest delays in the nation. At the meeting, he announced he has sent a letter to President Obama to express his deep concern over the VA claims backlog. Sen. Cornyn called on the president to follow the Texas model of seeking innovative practices to put an end to the unacceptable wait veterans face.
“It is past time for the VA’s leaders to bring in best practices from outside the VA, including the private sector and non-profit communities, and leverage efforts by state government agencies and outside organizations to address the claims backlog.
“Initiatives such as the Texas Veterans Commission’s ‘Beat the Backlog’ Clinics and Strike Force Teams have proven successful in assisting veterans with getting their claims processed faster by the VA. These types of efforts should be promoted and replicated across the nation.”
The full text of the letter is attached and below.
July 19, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I write today to reiterate my deep concern regarding the massive backlog of veterans’ claims for disability benefits that await processing by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and to urge two specific steps to help address this problem.
On August 31, 2010, in a speech to the American Legion National Convention, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki promised to “break the back of the backlog by this year.” At that time, there were 533,108 claims for benefits pending with the VA, with more than a third of those claims pending for more than 125 days, and thus considered by the VA to be backlogged. Today, VA data indicate there are more than 797,000 claims pending, with nearly two-thirds of these claims sitting in the backlog. Not only did the VA not break the back of the backlog, its size has more than doubled since Secretary Shinseki made that promise.
As you know, W. Scott Gould stepped down from his position as Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs on May 17, 2013, and this position remains vacant. I am concerned about the two month delay in nominating someone to fill this critical position. As you consider who to nominate to succeed Mr. Gould, I strongly encourage you to select an individual of the highest caliber who is ideally suited to lead the charge in eliminating this egregious backlog. That individual should possess demonstrated ability in managing large organizations that handle high volumes of claims in an expeditious and effective manner, as well as a proven track record in reforming, reorganizing, and turning around failed entities through innovative solutions. The Senate will carefully consider this nomination during the confirmation process, and senators must have confidence that your nominee possesses the requisite skills and background to tackle the backlog.
It is past time for the VA’s leaders to bring in best practices from outside the VA, including the private sector and non-profit communities, and leverage efforts by state government agencies and outside organizations to address the claims backlog. Initiatives such as the Texas Veterans Commission’s “Beat the Backlog” Clinics and Strike Force Teams have proven successful in assisting veterans with getting their claims processed faster by the VA. These types of efforts should be promoted and replicated across the nation. That is why I authored a provision that was enacted into law in the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit to Congress a plan to reduce the backlog of claims and partner with non-Federal entities to do it. The VA was required by law to provide this plan to Congress by March 3, 2013, and yet the deadline has come and gone.
The status quo at the VA is unacceptable, and it cannot be allowed to continue. The VA is falling short of its solemn obligation to ensure that our veterans’ claims for disabilities incurred as a result of their military service are promptly processed. Those who have raised their right hand and donned our nation’s military uniform deserve better. I ask for your leadership to put an end to this national disgrace.
United States Senator
Senator Cornyn serves on the Finance and Judiciary Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee.