Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of The Honorable Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing today and providing me the opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 2138, the Ending VA Claims Disability Backlog and Accountability Act.
Every day, our brave men and women in our Armed Forces risk their lives to preserve our freedom and the American way of life. When our service members return home, they often seek out the care and benefits the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is mandated to provide, only to be met by bureaucratic roadblocks. The Department of Veterans Affairs has continually stumbled in its efforts to serve our veterans, largely due to the increasing number of backlogged claims. We must honor those who have served, and that is why Congress has continued to increase the VA - an uncommon occurrence in today’s fiscal climate. Yet, despite this increased funding, the VA has and is failing to meet the needs of our veterans, and is, in it of itself, a major obstacle to ensuring our veterans have their disability claims resolved in a timely manner.
I continue to hear from frustrated veterans in my community about how they must wait for long periods of time, even years, for a decision on a claim. Recently, these complaints have continued to get worse, occurring more frequently. Even more frustrating, my own inquiries - Congressional inquiries - to the VA on behalf of our veterans were mostly ignored. So I appreciate the help of this committee for working with me to request an audit from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to seek answers.
The GAO audit confirmed our veterans’ worst complaints, and what disturbed me in particular was the number of backlogged claims at the Los Angeles Regional Office (LA RO) – which serves many of the veterans in my district. At the time of the audit, GAO found that 80% of over 25,000 claims at the LA RO were older than 125 days, one of the worst performing regional offices in the country. GAO also determined the average wait time for claims is 318 days from start to finish- nearly three times longer than the VA’s targeted completion time of 125 days.
After reviewing the audit, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and I immediately called upon Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to take swift action to implement the GAO’s recommendations to fix the delays in VA services and held a hearing where I questioned VA Undersecretary Allison Hickey on the damaging statistics in the GAO audits and blatant leadership problems within the VA. But instead of acknowledging many of problems identified by GAO - Undersecretary Hickey denied many of the audits’ findings.
I have repeatedly said that the House will keep the VA accountable to its goal of eliminating the backlog, by processing claims within 125 days with a 98% accuracy rating by 2015. So in addition to the Chairman’s bill, H.R. 2189 which I cosponsored, I introduced H.R. 2138 with the Chairman’s support to end the backlog. H.R. 2138 addresses the GAO-identified factors that contribute to the lengthy processing times of disability claims, improves congressional oversight of the VA’s efforts to reduce the backlog, and increases accountability by requiring the VA to end the backlog by Memorial Day 2015.
The bottom line is many veterans literally wait years before they receive needed benefits and sometimes it can be too late. The current system is failing our veterans, the very men and women who have served our country. They deserve better than this and we want to help the VA to better serve our veterans and end the backlog. I am confident both H.R. 2138 and H.R. 2189 will help in this effort.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me to testify today. I yield back my time.