Witness Testimony of The Honorable Jeffrey Denham, U.S. House of Representatives
Testimony of Congressman Jeff Denham – H.R. 4191, the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify this morning in regard to the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. The bill will end redundant Department of Veterans Affairs claims processing practices and allow veterans in my district to receive their benefits more rapidly.
I do not need to remind the members of this committee of the struggles faced by veterans trying to receive their disability compensation. Currently at the Oakland Regional Office of the Veterans Benefits Administration, which serves the veterans in my district, there are over 20,000 pending claims. 12,000 of those claims have been pending for more than 125 days. Nationwide, by the VA’s own count there are more than 638,000 pending claims. 360,000 of these have been pending for more than 125 days.
Secretary Shinseki set the goal of eliminating the disability claims backlog by 2015 and this committee and Congress responded by providing billions in additional funding to improve technology, hire additional staff and reform the rating process for timelier decisions. The VSOs were also a vital part of this total effort, working hand in hand with the VA to create the Fully Developed Claims process to certify claim packets before they are submitted so that they can be swiftly approved.
However, while these efforts are important, we are skeptical that these initiatives alone will break the backlog by the stated goal of 2015. Congress needs to do more to bolster the VA’s current efforts to modernize its operations and promote further improvements in order to get veterans’ claims and compensation needs settled faster.
With that in mind, Congressman Walz and I worked with Veteran Service organizations to draft the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act. The bill will require the VA to maximize the use of private medical evidence. The bill would allow veterans to see their own doctor instead of waiting for an appointment with VA physicians who are often overworked or far away from the veteran’s home. Congressman Walz and I both represent rural veterans, many of them elderly, and the challenge of traveling long distances for an appointment is one of their biggest barriers to accessing their veterans’ benefits. This bill will help remove that hurdle from the benefits claims process.
Additionally this bill will conserve the VA’s resources, allowing VA physicians to concentrate on patients with immediate needs rather than spend substantial time filling out disability claims paperwork.
We understand that there isn’t one silver bullet that will break the backlog. However, the Quicker Benefits Delivery Act provides substantial, innovative, results-oriented measures that work to bolster the VA’s current efforts.
I would like to thank the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Association of the United States Navy for their support of this legislation.