McNerney grills VA on Oakland office’s backlog

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.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    So the VA in Oakland is as inept as every other agency in Oakland.

  • Elwood

    @ RR

    One could say that Oakland is totally screwed.

    I wonder why that is?

  • Let’s get some Vets together and demonstrate on 1201 Clay St.

  • 650-544-5153

  • been waiting for my v a comp of 100% over 2 years am now listed at 50%
    can not get a phone call thru to oakland v a they say my claim is being serviced in sacramento???no phone number here either
    i am asking dianne finestein in wash d c to help me get my full v a claim and i am asking her to go face to face with the president and asking him to talk to me over nation wide t v about where is my full v a comp? and why have i been blocked out of justice in a court of law by man made laws for over 45 to 50 years. some thing bad happened to me in the army and as a result i need to get into a court of law against the army men …but man made laws are blocking me out of justice

    help help help nancy 530 585 2671

    p s you got my vote thank you for wanting to help vets