Portman, Brown Send Letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Urging the Department to Address the Current Backlog of Disability Claims

August 30, 2021 | Press Releases

CINCINNATI, OH – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough expressing concern over the growing number of disability claims being filed with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). Due to COVID-19, the VA temporarily paused in-person Compensation and Pension (C&P) examinations, which led to a significant backlog of claims. The senators also addressed the fact that the VA does not currently have a permanent Under Secretary for Benefits, which they acknowledge as critical in addressing the C&P examination and claims backlogs. They urged the Secretary to work with the White House to pick a nominee expeditiously so that the Senate can proceed with the nomination process as soon as possible.

“We are writing to express concern regarding the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog of almost 182,000 claims, which the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) expects to peak to about 225,000 to 240,000 claims soon. Last April, VA temporarily paused in-person Compensation and Pension (C&P) examinations due to pandemic-related health and safety concerns,” said the senators. “Although VA began offering in-person examinations again in October, the temporary pause in C&P examinations has contributed to a significant claims backlog. We understand that there has been an influx of VA disability Blue Water Navy claims and Agent Orange claims under the recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) expansion. We urge VA to work to eliminate the backlog to ensure timely benefits decisions for our veterans and their families.”

To view the letter, see below or click here.

August 30, 2021

The Honorable Denis McDonough                              

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary McDonough

We are writing to express concern regarding the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog of almost 182,000 claims, which the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) expects to peak to about 225,000 to 240,000 claims soon. Last April, VA temporarily paused in-person Compensation and Pension (C&P) examinations due to pandemic-related health and safety concerns.  Although VA began offering in-person examinations again in October, the temporary pause in C&P examinations has contributed to a significant claims backlog.  We understand that there has been an influx of VA disability Blue Water Navy claims and Agent Orange claims under the recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) expansion.  We urge VA to work to eliminate the backlog to ensure timely benefits decisions for our veterans and their families.

As you know, last fall, during a surge in the C&P examination backlog, VA suspended all C&P examinations and sent veterans to private contractors, with no notice to Congress.  Although the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) eventually resumed some in-house examinations, VA continues to rely on VBA contractors to perform about 90 percent of all C&P examinations. 

We urge VBA to follow through on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent recommendations for improving oversight and quality control of contractor examinations.  We request updates on VA’s compliance with Section 2002 of the Johnny Isakson and David P Roe, M.D Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, and VBA’s progress in completing open recommendations in the GAO’s October 2018 and March 2021 reports, including regarding specialized examinations for military sexual trauma (MST), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and toxic exposures.

VA received $19.6 billion under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included $13 million in supplemental funding for VBA.  VA also received an additional $17 billion under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), including $262 million to reduce the VBA claims backlog.  As of April 2021, VA only had obligated about half of the funds it received under the CARES Act.  We request an itemized breakdown of funds that VA has obligated under both the CARES Act and the ARP specifically to address the C&P examination and claims backlogs.

We applaud the steps VA has taken to address the C&P examination backlog and consequent claims backlog by increasing the use of telehealth examinations when practicable.  There are currently over 41,000 claims in which veterans chose not to appear for in-person C&P examinations needed to substantiate their disability claims.  Maximizing telehealth examinations when possible will make the claims process more accessible to veterans who have difficulty attending in-person examinations.

Finally, we recognize that a permanent Under Secretary for Benefits is critical for VA to address the C&P examination and claims backlogs promptly and effectively.   We encourage the White House to select a qualified nominee so the Senate can proceed with the confirmation process as soon as possible.  We would stand ready to help with regard to moving an appropriate nominee through the process. 

We look forward to working with you to eliminate the C&P examination and claims backlogs.  VA must ensure that our veterans and their families receive timely benefits decisions, and in turn, have prompt access to essential benefits they have earned.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

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