Amodei amendment tweaks focus of bill to speed VA claims

WASHINGTON — The House agreed Tuesday to shift $44 million in mandatory overtime to regional offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs struggling to reduce backlogs of disability claims, including the the office in Reno.

Lawmakers voted 248-172 for an amendment by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. It was attached to a VA spending bill that contained other provisions designed to attack the 606,000-claim backlog generated by service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

One amendment approved by voice vote would cut the pay of top VA officials by 25 percent unless the percentage of claims older than 125 days is reduced by 40 percent by July 2014.

Amodei’s amendment would alter a VA initiative announced last month to mandate $44 million in overtime in a bid to reduce the backlog.

Amodei argued the funding would do more good concentrated on regions with the worst backlogs — those greater than 365 days.

“I believe more can be done to directly help veterans where the problem is greatest,” Amodei said.

Fifteen VA offices would qualify for the additional funding, including ones in California, New York, Texas and Illinois. Lawmakers from the large states helped provide the winning majority.

Los Angeles has the worst backlog, at 576 days, according to the VA. The regional office in Reno is second, at 504 days.

The Reno office serves 250,000 veterans in both Northern and Southern Nevada in addition to vets in some California counties.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.