Titus continues to battle VA to benefit veterans

In a series of recent bills and actions, Rep. Dina Titus has launched an attack on problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs so the veterans who served the country will be better served by its government.

On the top of her list is a goal to reduce the staggering backlog of VA disability claims that she is tackling on two fronts: the VA’s administration of the claims process, and through her Pay As You Rate Act.

The Las Vegas Democrat intends to sit down Tuesday with invited representatives of veterans groups at the College of Southern Nevada’s West Charleston campus to discuss the claims backlog and other issues. VA officials won’t be part of the roundtable.

“I think if they’re there that will have a chilling effect,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Eighty percent of Nevada’s 10,333 claimants have waited more than 125 days to have their claims processed, including 4,210 who have waited more than a year for an answer.

The VA’s Reno Regional Office, which handles claims for Nevada veterans, is ranked the sixth-worst in the nation for delays in processing claims among 58 VA area offices.

“The average number of days to complete a claim is 513, which is shameful,” Titus said. “And that’s one of the highest in the country.”

To speed things up so veterans can get the care they need, her Pay As You Rate bill aims to award compensation faster to those stuck in a backlog of disability claims.

The bill would require the VA to pay benefits to vets as components of their claims are adjudicated. “Right now they wait for the whole case to finish,” she said.

The VA is also doing things administratively, Titus noted, by putting simple claims on a fast track and more complex claims that require doctor examinations and documentation of injuries on a separate track.

She also set milestones for the Reno office to resolve claims. Currently, hundreds of claimants who have waited more than two years for action are targeted to have those resolved by June.

Titus is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and ranking member of the subcommittee on dis­ability assistance and memorial affairs.

She sponsored a bill that cleared committee earlier this month that would require the VA to include an appeals form when it notifies veterans by mail they have been denied benefits rather than wait for a 30-day lag to apply for and receive the forms.

She’s also pushing for more advanced computers so the VA and the Department of Defense outlets can communicate faster on requests for medical records needed to resolve claims. Currently, the VA has to wait an average of 120 days for the Department of Defense to send records.

At the same time, Titus wants to launch a program to train veteran service organization representatives to help veterans with computerized filing for claims and records.

A no-brainer was last week’s passage by the House of a bill by Titus and Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., for automatic cost-of-living adjustments for veterans benefits rather than expecting Congress to approve them each year.

“By permanently adjusting benefits to include cost-of-living increases, we are providing critical peace of mind to those who have bravely served this country,” she said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.