One of the best things about serving in public office is the opportunity to interact with active-duty and retired members of our Armed Forces on a regular basis. These brave men and women have incredible stories that are truly inspiring. In their military service, our veterans shined as the ultimate examples of self-sacrifice, heroism, patriotism and perseverance and now are a vital part of our communities.
As a nation, we owe all of our veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude for defending our ability to live free. In exchange for their service the government provides a number of benefits and programs that are supposed to ensure that upon leaving the Armed Forces, veterans are able to have access to education and career development opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, access to the health care and support for disabilities following their service.
The federal government is failing to keep these promises to many veterans.
Two-thirds of all veterans who file disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must wait longer than 125 days to receive their benefits, and for those filing a first time claim for disability the average wait is nearly a year. Constituents in my district have contacted my office in sheer exasperation by the lack of response and endless delays by the VA in processing their claims.
The thing is, this isn’t just a statistic we’re talking about—these are people’s lives. Many of the veterans on the backlog are in desperate need of care—care that has been delayed needlessly because of the bureaucratic backlog at the VA.
I recently joined with a group of my House colleagues, including Rep. Mike Coffman (CO), in a letter to the President urging that he “take direct action and involvement in ending the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog.” In our letter we point out that the VA Backlog has grown by over 2000 percent over the past four years despite an increase in the VA budget of more than 20%. As of March 28, of this year, the VA reported there are 606,007 backlogged claims and 865,989 total claims.
Nearly 900,000 veterans who sacrificed for our country are not getting their benefits, not getting the care they need.
Despite the inability for the VA to process claims in a timely manner, the Agency continues to waste money on unnecessarily expensive conferences. In September of 2012, the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report highlighting numerous abuses and expenditures by the VA at conferences. That report included numerous troubling findings including instances where the VA spent more than $6.1 million on two Human Resources conferences in Orlando and nearly $100,000 on unnecessary promotional items like bags and pens. These are just a few of the instances of waste fraud and abuse at the VA that were included in the report.
Following the release of the OIG Report, Congressman Jeff Miller (FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs stated “it can be reasonably concluded that 10-15 percent of VA’s conference spending is wasteful, amounting to $10-15 million a year, at the least.”
To address this problem I passed an amendment in the House to target $10 million dollars in wasteful spending on conferences from the Secretary’s $403 million budget and reprioritize these funds to assist with addressing the VA backlog. This amendment passed the House this month attached to the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act and now awaits action in the Senate.
It is time that the VA focus their efforts on serving our veterans and processing their claims in a reasonable amount of time. The VA must reduce the backlog, and it won’t get it done by wasting time and taxpayer dollars at conferences.
The federal government must prioritize its resources to ensure they are being spent on processing claims, and not on bureaucracy. Additionally, in order to affect real change at the VA, the President must get involved. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House to do everything possible to stand up for our veterans including applying pressure to the administration to take action within the VA to provide a solution to this problem. Keeping the promise to our veterans is not optional.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Resources, Agriculture and Small Business Committees