LI Pol’s Bill Aims to Cut VA Backlog

Steve Israel
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) at a news conference in Hicksville on Monday, April 29, 2013.

A Long Island congressman is proposing legislation to help reduce a massive backlog of claims in the Department of Veterans Affairs, where vets are waiting an average of 273 days.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said his proposed End the VA Claims Backlog Now Act will help about 890,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some veterans making first-time claims who wait an average of 327 days.

“It’s unfathomable that the average wait time for veterans to start receiving benefits is 273 days,” Israel said Monday during a news conference at the VFW Hall in Hicksville. “The VA must do better, and that’s why I’m introducing legislation that would greatly reduce this backlog.”

Israel, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, added that for veterans living in a metropolitan area, the average wait for disability compensation is a staggering 642 days—a statistic that evoked gasps from the crowd of veterans in attendance.

This bill would give provisional benefits to those veterans filing for disability if their claims aren’t processed within 125 days. “If it is not adjudicated within 125 days [the affected veteran] automatically gets a 40 percent disability rating, no matter what,” said Israel.

Veterans disability ratings are assigned in 10 percent increments, ranging from 10 percent to 100 percent disabled—the higher the rating the more severe the disability, and the higher the monthly compensation, according to NOLO Network, a legal advice website.

Tireak Tulloch, a Brooklyn native who was deployed to Iraq twice and served a combined eight years in the Marine Corps reserve, credited Israel with signing a petition by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calling on President Barack Obama to end the backlog.

Tulloch, a leadership fellow with that nonpartisan veterans’ organization, recalled that Obama has said that it was necessary to shoulder some of the burden that veterans are made to bare and to continue to honor them, bringing strength to both the service men and women and to our nation as a whole.

“We need the president to stay true to these words,” said Tulloch. “As of last week we have over 880,000 veterans with pending claims in the VA system, and of that, over 610,000 [are] in the backlog. This is completely unacceptable and we must do more.”

Israel emphasized that there’s no reason why the bill shouldn’t be met with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“In a few weeks all of my colleagues will be marching in the Memorial Day parades, waving flags and talking about our obligation to veterans,” said Israel. “It’s time to put their money where their mouths are. It’s time to pass this bill.”