Casey helps lauch bill aimed at VA improvements

 U.S. Sen. Bob Casey attends a press conference on health care services at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities at the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia in  2014. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey attends a press conference on health care services at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities at the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia in 2014. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The backlog of claims at the Veterans Affairs regional facility in Philadelphia is nearly 245 days, while the national average is 198 days.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says that his office still gets calls, in some cases from veterans who have been waiting two years for treatment.

On Wednesday, Casey, D-Pennsylvania,  and a group of federal legislators announced bipartisan bill aimed at further cutting down the wait times veterans face.

“All they ask of us in the federal government is to make sure they can have the benefits they have earned, nothing less than that,” said Casey during a teleconference. “We should at least make sure their claims are processed expeditiously and in a manner that’s consistent with that reasonable expectation.”

The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, first introduced in March, mandates audits of the VA’s regional offices, as well as requiring the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to implement new procedures for exchanging information.

“You can’t process a claim if you don’t have the information required for it,” said Casey. “Just as I think Congress has an obligation to do what we can to help our veterans and make this right, other federal agencies do as well.”

The legislation proposal coincides with the release of a report by the VA Claims Backlog Working Group, which Casey co-chairs along with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada. The report lays out a number of solutions implemented by the VA over the past year, as well as actions still needed.

Heller said he and Casey first got involved in this because their respective states each had some of the worst-performing VA offices in the country. When the group started working in 2013, nationally there were half a million backlog claims. As of today, that number is about 161,000.

“For us to see some of these numbers moving in a positive way says a lot, but there’s room for improvement,” said Heller. “We cut the backlog in half, but we want to cut it in half again in the next year of two. So this legislation, it’s important.”

Part of the report focuses on what types of practices successful offices are implementing.

“We know that in these 56 regional offices, there are some offices around the country that are doing good work,” said Casey. “We need to know what those practices are so that every office achieves that measure of success.”

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