April 19, 2013

Udall: VA Plan to End Backlog Good First Step, More Work Needed to Improve Veterans Care

WASHINGTON - A new initiative to reduce the backlog of veterans benefit claims is a good first step, but more work must be done to improve the quality health care for veterans overall, says U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today its plans to expedite compensation decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer to have their claims processed. It will also begin making provisional decisions on veterans' claims, starting with the oldest claims in the inventory. This will allow veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible.

The plan is designed to meet the VA's goal of eliminating the claims backlog for veterans - something Udall has long called for.

"I am pleased the VA is taking further measures to ensure veterans get the benefits they deserve in a more timely manner," Udall said. "Today's announcement is a good first step to solving the unacceptable problem of veterans waiting much too long to have their claims processed."

The VA announcement comes after Udall met with VA Secretary Shinseki last week to register his concerns about the claims backlog and transportation challenges facing New Mexico veterans. Last month, Udall met with veterans in Roswell about these issues. Click here for more information about the meeting with Secretary Shinseki and here for photos of Udall's meeting with veterans in Roswell.

Today's announcement also comes one day after Udall questioned VA officials about ways the department intends to improve medical treatment and access to care for rural veterans. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veteran Affairs, and Related Agencies, Udall is part of the panel that has oversight of the VA's budget. Video from the hearing with Udall's questions is available here.

In late March, Udall was successful in securing a bipartisan amendment to the Senate budget resolution that encourages the expansion of access to health care for rural veterans through telehealth and other programs. The provision to expand access to health care for rural veterans was included as part of a larger blueprint which included language to expedite the processing of VA claims.