Rep. Dina Titus emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday with representatives from veterans groups and support organizations to say she will zero in on the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Reno Regional Office to reverse a staggering backlog in disability claims.
She said the Reno office, which serves 250,000 Nevada veterans in addition to vets in some California counties, is ranked fifth worst in the nation for processing claims.
“We are going after them to find out why they are not moving things faster. It takes about 500 days for the average claim to be processed. That is just unacceptable,” said Titus, D-Nev., a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and ranking member of the subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs.
Titus met for an hour with veterans advocates at the College of Southern Nevada’s West Charleston campus. She said she needs their help in assisting veterans with computerized filing of their claims while she works with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to merge their computer systems to make medical records available within 21 days of discharge, or 45 days for previously separated service members.
“It seems to me a simple thing that the computers at the VA ought to be able to talk to the computers at the Department of Defense. And that should be seamless. And they swear that they are doing that now,” she said, adding that VA workers need more training on computers.
Titus joined 19 other House members in writing President Barack Obama last week, complaining about the Defense Department’s delays in providing records to the VA.
“Mr. President, if VA is moving into an electronic processing system, it will be impossible to meet Secretary (Eric) Shinseki’s goal of no claim pending for longer than 125 days if VA is waiting on DoD for 175 days,” the letter reads.
VA statistics from April showed 80 percent of Nevada’s 10,333 claimants had been waiting more than 125 days to have their claims processed, including 4,210 who have waited more than a year for an answer.
Blaming “endless bureaucratic inaction” on the backlog, the letter calls for immediate action to end the back-and-forth between the Pentagon and the VA over merging health care records. “Select a system, pick a path and move forward,” urges the May 22 letter.
Vietnam War veteran Sylvester Smith, who attended Tuesday’s forum, said much of the discussion focused on “getting everything on computers. A lot of good points came out and we talked about ways to solve the backlog,”
Titus wants the VA to use common sense in its handling of claims. For example, when a claim is denied, the VA should enclose an appeal form in the letter rather than wait 30 days for a veteran to ask for one, fill it out and send it in. Then, the VA takes another 30 days to send an answer back.
“That’s 60 days wasted,” she said. “Why not send the form when you send the letter denying the claim?”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.