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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

House Reps, Dems Push Bush Admin to Increase VA Staffing

From Knight Ridder:

Congressional leaders from both parties have begun pushing the Bush administration to boost staffing for its veterans' disability compensation program, now mired in a growing backlog of cases and beset by increasing delays. At the same time, Democratic lawmakers are writing legislation to increase funding and enrollment in a pension program for poor veterans and their widows. In December, Knight Ridder revealed that the program was overlooking the vast majority of people who could participate - an estimated 2 million veterans or widows who collectively aren't getting as much as $22 billion a year. ...

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The column continues:

Although the Bush administration expects the backlog to continue rising, its 2007 budget proposal calls for decreasing the staff that directly handles such cases - 149 fewer workers, from the current year's 6,574. The VA has long wanted to reduce its backlog to less than 250,000 claims. But the department's most recent projections have it rising to nearly 400,000 by the end of 2007. In addition, the average time to process claims, which the VA had said would drop to 145 days, or 125 days, or even 100 days, is projected to increase this year and next, to more than 180 days. ...

Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., chairman of the House veterans committee, said in a Feb. 23 letter that his committee "strongly recommends" adding 200 VA claims workers into the president's budget, slightly increasing the level over the current year's. Buyer "definitely is dissatisfied that the backlog is going back up," Brooke Adams, a committee spokeswoman, said this week. "The goal is to significantly reduce the backlog."

Democrats and Republicans on the committee say the administration also needs to beef up its appeals division, generally the source of the longest waits for veterans. In 2005, the average response time for a board decision was 622 days - well above the department's goal of 365 days.

Please contact your representatives and ask them to support an increase in VA staffing.

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