On November 26, 2013, Paralyzed Veterans of America began a series of briefing sessions designed to inform lawmakers and executive branch leadership of the needs that persist in eliminating the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nov 26, 2013 at the White House with National Council on Disability member and Marine Corps veteran John Kuniholm (left) with Sherman Gillums Jr., Marine Corps (ret.), from Paralyzed Veterans before the NCD/PVA policy paper briefing on the VA claims backlog
The briefings series comes just days after the independent National Council on Disability (NCD) released a policy paper written by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the NCD that examines the impact the backlog is having on veterans with disabilities and offers seven key recommendations for de-bureaucratizing the VA claims process and eliminating the backlog.
"The report provides the most apolitical, comprehensive assessment of the VA claims backlog framed through the perspective of all stakeholders,” said Sherman Gillums, associate executive director of veterans benefits at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “It will also enhance Congress's ability to conduct constructive oversight through well-informed inquiries. Most importantly, it treats veterans like people, not statistics, by telling their stories."
The report, “Clearing the Backlog and Facilitating Benefits for America’s Veterans,” released Nov. 12, 2013, provides results from Paralyzed Veterans’ original research as well as a comprehensive assessment of the backlog, from its historical origins to today. The goal of the report is to educate Americans on the issue and provide recommendations for the President, Congress and other federal agencies to consider.
The report offered seven recommendations:
- Congress should ensure that access to the Defense Department’s Defense Personnel Records Information Retrieval System is accessible to Title 38 accredited representatives who develop and submit claims.
- Congress should revise the 2000 Veterans Claims Assistance Act to clarify due process provisions, veterans’ rights to self-determination including control of claims and the scope of VA’s obligation to develop timely and accurate benefit determinations.
- Congress should ensure that federal agencies develop policies that make responding to VA requests for records a high priority and define a timetable for response that is monitored and enforced.
- Congress should provide adequate funding to finalize, implement and maintain the Veterans Benefits Management System and supportive technology.
- Staffing levels at federal agencies should be increased proportionately to manage higher demand.
- VA should encourage the expanded use of the Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE) process to reduce the number of unnecessary in-person Compensation & Pension examinations.
- Department of Defense should adopt an electronic health record system that is compatible with VA's current system in order to facilitate the smooth transfer of health information.
The briefings, which took place at the White House, included the Office of Public Engagement’s Claudia Gordon, public engagement advisor for the disability community, and Tayna Bradsher, associate director and lead for veterans, wounded warriors and military family outreach, as well as Robert Snyder, acting assistant secretary in the VA’s Office of Policy and Planning, and senior staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Briefings on the policy paper for members of the Defense Department and the Senate Armed Services Committee will take place in the near future.
"Our goal is to ensure this backlog isn't viewed as just VA's problem,” Gillums said. “We all have a stake in eliminating the backlog, and this report highlights shared accountability across all government agencies, Congress, the White House, and even veterans. We can no longer simply admire the problem and relish in its complexity. It's now time for everyone involved to act."
Read the full report: Clearing the Backlog and Facilitating Benefits for America’s Veterans
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's Veterans Benefits Department
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com