California is moving to help the federal government cut the backlog of veterans’ disability claims with a new law creating a 36-member state strike force to help the Veterans Affairs Department process claims.
The state budget allocated $3 million to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, known as CalVet, to stand up 12-member teams to be detailed to the federal VA regional offices in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego to process claims.
The Los Angeles office currently has the worst record in the U.S. for processing claims. On average, it is taking 338 days for VA to complete a claim, according to the department’s July 8 workload report. The Los Angeles office is averaging 629 days. The Oakland office is also among the nation’s slowest, averaging 592 days. The San Diego office is taking an average of 345 days.
CalVet Secretary Peter Gravett said Monday the extra money is the result of an agreement between Gov. Jerry Brown and State Assembly Speaker John Perez, both Democrats. Helping veterans “get the benefits they so richly deserve after their honorable service to our country is the very least we can do for them,” Gravett said.
The state hopes to hire experienced veterans claims representatives for the temporary positions. Funding for the jobs expires on June 30, 2016, CalVet officials said.
CalVet has an agreement with VA, similar to one between VA and the Texas Veterans Commission, to provide state employees with office space, computers, phones and other equipment to work inside the federal building but under the supervision of state staff.
The effort was praised by attorney Joseph Moore of the Bethesda, Md.,-based law firm Bergmann & Moore. “VA truly needs the assistance, because the average time for VA to complete a claim is longer than one year, and VA makes mistakes in 30 percent of high-risk claims,” Moore said.
The supplemental state employees being added in California and Texas “should help thousands of our most vulnerable veterans, such as those with new claims, claims on appeal, or claims for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or individual unemployability,” Moore said.