Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — There is no excuse for veterans to wait an average of more than 400 days for their benefits – a delay made possible because federal computers are not compatible, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.
So, in a conference call with reporters, Schumer said Wednesday he will help lead a new push for legislation this month that will help address a nationwide backlog of claims for veterans benefits — including 25,000 pending claims in New York alone. Schumer said 3,091 of those are from Western New York veterans.
The processing of these claims is being delayed primarily because computer systems at the Department of Veterans Affairs are not compatible with those at the Department of Defense, Schumer said.
Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation that would require the federal agencies to make their computers compatible within a year. The interoperable, electronic health record system would speed up claims processing.
And in the interim, a second bill Schumer is sponsoring would require the VA to immediately hire and train extra claims processors to handle the backlog.
“We don’t expect delays when we send our soldiers overseas into combat zones, so we shouldn’t tolerate any delays of such a significant magnitude from the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration when our soldiers seek to access the benefits they are entitled to,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the legislation will likely be included in the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014. The Senate will likely consider the legislation before Thanksgiving.
When asked if the effort to merge computer systems of two federal agencies could cause problems similar to those affecting the Affordable Care Act, Schumer said there shouldn’t be any issue.
“Making two existing computer systems compatible is a lot easier than setting up a new system,” he said.
Currently, a veteran has one set of health records for healthcare under the Defense Department and a different, incompatible set of records must be created for benefits and healthcare service by the VA. During the transition from active duty to separation and retirement, it takes the VA’s Veteran’s Benefits Administration a significant amount of time to access and analyze the Defense Department’s medical treatment records.
This is one of the leading reasons veterans wait an average of 400 days to start receiving veteran’s benefits, Schumer said.
A March report by the Government Accountability Office found that “delays in obtaining military service and medical treatment records, particularly for National Guard and Reserve members, have significantly lengthened the evidence gathering phase.” These delays “impact VA’s duty to assist, possibly delaying a decision on a veteran’s disability claim.”
According to a study done by Allsup, nationwide, more than 253,000 veterans are waiting for their disability compensation issues to be resolved.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.