Sen. Casey pushes to reduce VA disability backlog

    U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) is calling on Senate leadership to take action on cutting back wait times for veterans applying for disability benefits.

    Speaking in Philadelphia, Casey said veterans wait on average 266 days for disability claims to be processed, slightly above the national average.

    At a press conference Monday, Casey said he wrote to the chairman of the Veteran’s Committee to ask for a hearing on a bill he introduced in March aimed at cutting those wait times.

    “We say to our veterans, because you have served, because you have sacrificed, because your families have sacrificed, we as your fellow citizens are going to do everything we can to provide you the benefits that you deserve,” Casey said.

    “We cannot say we’re fulfilling that promise if the claims backlog remains in effect.”

    The bill focuses on increasing access to help for veterans filling out their initial disability claims paperwork, speeding up electronic claims processing at regional offices, and demanding more information from federal agencies outside the VA when transferring requested claims information.

    The bill, called the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, has not seen any movement since it was first introduced in March.

    West Philadelphia veteran Jose Martinez said it took seven months for his claim to be processed. He has now been waiting a year for word on whether his disability rating can be upgraded.

    “It’s a financial hardship,” Martinez said. “I’m currently in school, I can’t work at my previous employment, so right now I’m looking to find work as a full-time veteran advocate, so the additional income would definitely help out.”

    Casey applauded the determination of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald in restructuring the administration.

    In response to a series of scandals involving long waits for health care, McDonald Monday announced layoffs and a massive restructuring of the department.

    However, Casey said a legislative fix for the disability claim backlog is still necessary.

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