Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to serve our nation and protect our freedoms. When they come home, it is our duty to ensure they do not have to fight for the benefits and care they were promised for their service. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to uphold this promise for too many members of the military returning home.
Upon receiving complaints from local veterans on the excessive time it takes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to process veterans’ disability claims and schedule proper medical appointments, I led my colleagues in Congress in requesting that Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct an audit of the VA in the timely processing of disability claims, and an audit of its scheduling of medical appointments. I wanted an independent analysis of the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits and medical services they are entitled to in a timely manner.
The GAO’s audit confirmed California veterans’ concerns, and in response, the VA agreed to reduce their backlog and increase processing accuracy. When I heard that the VA still failed to meet these standards, I sent a letter directly to the Secretary of the VA, calling again on the agency to implement the GAO’s recommendations following the release of the audits. On March 6, 2013, I testified at a Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the findings of the GAO audit on medical appointments and I testified again on March 20, 2013, on the GAO’s findings on the disability claims backlog. Unfortunately, the VA has provided disappointing responses to both our letter and to questioning at the hearings.
I fought to ensure that the goals of these audits were met with an appropriate timeline by introducing H.R. 2138, The Ending the VA Claims Disability Backlog and Accountability Act, which passed the House on a near unanimous vote of 404 to 1. The legislation aimed to implement the GAO’s recommendations and to ensure that veterans’ disability benefits claims were processed in a more timely fashion. I took action again by introducing H.R. 2661, the bipartisan “Veterans Access to Timely Medical Appointments Act” to improve medical appointment wait times for veterans seeking access to medical care. This bill mandates the VA to improve its appointment scheduling policy and crack down on excessive wait times.
The lack of accountability that the VA has consistently shown our veterans is simply unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the best care, especially from the Department that was created to serve them.