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Sanders sees hiring vets to process claims as part of backlog solution

May. 13, 2013 - 11:12AM   |  
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Hiring veterans to process claims could be part of the solution to eliminating the backlog of disability claims, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman believes.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who became the veterans’ committee chairman in January, sees hiring veterans for claims processing and adjudication positions as one step among many that are needed to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims.

Sanders noted that the Veterans Affairs Department lost about 6 percent of its claims staff in fiscal 2012. This created openings that could be filled by veterans to “create a generation of adjudicators throughout VA who can identify with the experiences of the population they serve,” he said in a statement.

Sanders introduced a bill May 9 that calls for creation of a working group within VA that would look at how to hire veterans and also look at how to evaluate employees who work on claims.

This is hardly the first bill introduced this year to tackle the pile of almost 900,000 pending claims, but Sanders’ role as chairman of the Senate committee responsible for veterans’ programs moves the measure, S 928, to the center of attention in the Senate.

Sanders said he continues to hear complaints that VA’s method of evaluating its claims staff “focuses almost exclusively on speed, often to the detriment of quality.” The working group he envisions would try to come up with a balanced evaluation.

His bill, the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013, also would try to speed claims by expanding acceptance of examinations by private physicians and by seeking to reduce the average 1,040-day wait for an appeal to be decided. For example, Sanders would like to see expanded use of video hearings to reduce complications in scheduling travel.

“It is unconscionable that a veteran or family member had to wait, on average, nearly three years for a decision on an appeal,” Sanders said.

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