Rep. Jerry McNerney asked the Department of Veterans Affairs yesterday why Northern California veterans are getting the short end of the stick.
At a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, McNerney, D-Pleasanton, sought answers about a backlog of veterans’ benefits claims at the VA’s Oakland regional office, which serves all of Northern California. He and other California House members also have written today to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki about the VA’s recent decision to deny added support for that office.
“I’ve heard from too many veterans in our region about the enormous and frustrating delays in processing their benefits claims,” McNerney said in a news release this morning. “The VA has a responsibility to help our veterans in a timely and efficient manner. As it stands, the delays are unacceptable.”
At the hearing, McNerney demanded to know why the Oakland office’s performance is so poor and what the VA intends to do about it; the VA couldn’t provide a concrete plan beyond retraining all of the Oakland claims representatives this June.
McNerney notes that although California is home to the most veterans in the nation and the Oakland regional office is among the worst in the VA system at processing claims, the VA excluded the Oakland office from plans for a system that would help reduce the number of claims. The VA is implementing this plan in 12 other offices across the country.
“We have a responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to protect our country and way of life to provide benefits to them when they return home,” McNerney said. “The delays at the Oakland VA office must be addressed, and I call on the Obama administration to take steps to rectify the problem,” said Rep. McNerney.
McNerney is the only Bay Area member on the Veterans Affairs Committee, but other than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the entire Bay Area delegation joined him in signing today’s letter to Shinseki. Follow after the jump for that letter’s full text…
April 19, 2012
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave.,
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We are writing to express our extreme disappointment over the recent decision by your department not to include the Veteran Affairs’ Oakland Regional Office among the 12 offices slated to receive “claims transformation initiatives” which will address severe claims backlog issues. The Oakland regional office serves veterans from Bakersfield to the Oregon border, and averages a 313 day wait for a decision on a claim. As of last Monday, the Oakland office has an entitlement backlog of 34,159 cases with 80.8 percent of these cases sitting without a rating for more than 125 days. This is the second worst percentage of backlogged claims older than 125 days in the nation. The Oakland office, crippled by its backlog, is forced to ship all new cases to VA offices in Nebraska and Oklahoma.
We have heard from our veteran constituents that they are often required to obtain multiple medical exams because the first exam is considered invalid due to the lengthy passage of time between the initial claim and the time the claim is ready to be rated. This is gross inefficiency and an unnecessary hardship on veterans and their families, some who may even become homeless while they wait for a claim decision from the Oakland office.
Please reconsider your decision not to select the Oakland regional office as one of the 12 to receive transformation initiatives, and send immediate help to the Oakland office so it may improve its processing of claims, erase this shameful backlog, and serve the veterans who so nobly served our country.