Bennet to Shinseki: Our Veterans Deserve Faster, More Efficient VA

In Letter to VA Secretary, Bennet Shares Concerns from Colorado Veterans on Claims Backlog

Washington, DC – Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, urged Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to make the VA claims backlog a priority and work to correct inefficiencies in the archaic, paper-reliant system.  In a letter to Shinseki, Bennet addressed the concerns of Colorado veterans he met during his statewide veterans listening tour, many of whom expressed frustration over how long they have to wait for claims to be resolved.

“I promised the veterans I met that I would make sure their voices were heard by you, and that I would work with you to identify inefficiencies and implement improvements that will help our veterans quickly receive the benefits they have earned,” Bennet said in the letter.

Along with identifying inefficiencies in the system and computerizing records, Bennet asks Shinseki to make the process more open and accessible so veterans can track information and to streamline the appeals process, which currently lasts an average of two years.

The letter is a direct result of Bennet’s statewide listening tour, which he conducted last month as part of an ongoing effort to reach out to hear directly from former military men and women and their families and get their ideas on how to address major issues including access to VA healthcare, services and benefits and the VA’s backlogs. Among the suggestions Bennet heard was an idea to allow veterans to track their claims in the same way they can track a package as it travels to its destination.

Earlier this month, Bennet launched a Veterans Hotline and online platform on his website to help Colorado veterans navigate the government bureaucracy and guide them in their efforts to get the benefits they have earned.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I recently completed a statewide listening tour during which I visited with veterans in communities throughout Colorado.  As I ventured across the state, the thing I heard most often from our veterans was that they are waiting too long for their claims to be resolved.  I promised the veterans I met that I would make sure their voices were heard by you, and that I would work with you to identify inefficiencies and implement improvements that will help our veterans quickly receive the benefits they have earned.

I know that you and the rest of the Administration are working hard to do what you can by hiring new claims processors, testing out new pilot programs for processing claims, and streamlining the process for claiming benefits related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

As we look for ways to eliminate the backlog of claims—which stands at over 13,000 in Colorado and over 700,000 nationally—we need to look at correcting inefficiencies within the system.  This Administration has made a commitment to streamlining processes, cutting costs, and finding the best practices throughout the U.S. government, and as you strive to do this, one of the key areas that should be examined is the VA claims processing system.  

The VA could potentially gain some ground on the backlog by computerizing records and by making the process more open and accessible so veterans are better able to track information about how far along their claim has progressed.  Right now, the VA is hamstrung by an archaic, paper-reliant system that does not give it a realistic chance to meet the needs of a growing number of returning veterans.   

Streamlining the appeals process offers another potential area for improvement.  The average processing time for appeals is 776 days—over two years—and has gone up steadily since 2005.  There are inefficiencies that, if properly addressed, could cut that number down to a more reasonable timeframe.  

Finally, we need a thorough review of VA’s responsiveness to calls for assistance.  Based on my conversations with veterans in Colorado, responsiveness to 1-800 numbers maintained by the VA has been insufficient, with many veterans waiting on hold or not getting through at all.  

Your attention to these matters will go a long way toward making sure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve in a timely manner.  Thank you for your cooperation, your willingness to take on these challenges, and your commitment to our nation’s veterans.