U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, recently introduced a bill aimed at helping disabled veterans get their benefits faster while encouraging the VA to provide adequate and timely services.
"The Veterans Administration may view this as a financial penalty and hopefully will encourage the VA to clean up its act and speed up the process," Enyart said. "It will give the VA a boot in the posterior."
The Veterans Backlog Reduction Act was introduced into the House April 25. The act, if passed, would address the length of time it takes for the VA to address veterans' claims as well as the hardship disabled veterans face when their disability claims take a year or longer to process. Enyart is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
There are more than 900,000 disability claims cases from veterans waiting to be processed; the average processing time taking about nine months.
"In many cases, the wait is much longer and many cases last over a year," Enyart said. "These are real Americans who deserve disability benefits. These men and women are rightfully entitled to prompt adjudication and payment for their claims. Often, these disabled veterans are unable to work because of their injuries and they are suffering without income while waiting on the VA to process their claims."
Michael Boren, a disabled veteran from Energy, waited more than 18 months for his injury claim to be processed by the VA. During that time, he submitted the same requested paperwork over and over again as different VA branches failed to communicate with each other.
Boren, an Army and National Guard veteran, sustained a back injury during deployment and has not been able to find work.
"I ended up finding out a lot of my records were not put together with the VBA for the VA," Boren said. "For some reason the VA doesn't communicate in different regions. I've submitted my VA paperwork four times but it has never been consolidated in one place."
After 18 months of working through the system, Boren finally was able to get his disability claim approved and receive a payment.
"What the congressman is proposing will benefit veterans everywhere," Boren said. "It's not just about me. There are a lot of vets going through the same thing every where and having to struggle."
If the legislation is approved, partial provisional benefits would be paid to claimants if their claims are not processed within 125 days of being submitted. If the claims are judged valid after 125 days, the remainder of the disability benefit would be paid.
If the claim is denied after 125 days, the veteran would not have to return to partial payment unless fraud, misrepresentation or bad faith is proven in filing the claim.
"The goal of the bill is not to pay out provisional benefits to disabled vets," Enyart said. "The goal is to get these claims processed in a timely manner. It is inexcusable that someone like Michael, who was clearly injured in a combat zone, had to wait 18 months to get a resolution on a legitimate claim. It was due solely to the VA's inability to get the paperwork processed in a timely manner, something they are paid to do."