Sixty-nine years ago last Thursday, Allied forces stormed the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy. Through their courage and sacrifice, they cut a foothold in Northern France and began a march that culminated in victory.
Though the battlefield has changed, our troops today exhibit the same valor as they serve our country around the world. In Congress, I fight to ensure the men and women of the armed forces have the best equipment and training so they can come home safe and sound. As long as we have young men and women putting their lives on the line for this country, national security must be our top priority.
We must also honor that commitment when our troops return home because we are forever indebted for their service.
Unfortunately, today our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines return from war to face a new fight: They are left to battle the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration.
The average processing time for a veteran’s application for assistance is 292 days. Some regional offices report wait times in excess of 450 days. That’s more than one year just to get the help they need.
According to the VA, there are currently 865,265 claims pending review. More than 66 percent have been waiting for more than 125 days.
For veterans to wait this long to get the care they need is unacceptable. The bureaucracy is failing them.
Congress has worked closely with the VA to see this problem fixed, investing nearly $500 million in a new system. Despite oft-repeated pledges by the agency’s leadership that the backlog will be resolved, however, it only continues to get worse.
Last week, the House approved funding for the VA that includes targeted investments and reforms to break the bureaucratic logjam. It includes funding for a paperless claims process and digital scanning of health records to reduce wait times.
The answer to the problem like this one, however, is not always more money. That’s why the bill also includes strict oversight measures to increase transparency and identify where claims are being backed up.
I proposed a provision which was overwhelmingly approved to employ a private-sector approach to addressing the problem. If those charged with leading the VA do not see the percentage of backlogged cases reduced to 40 percent by next July, they will see their pay cut by 25 percent.
While 40 percent still is too high and, frankly, 25 percent is too low a penalty, this is a step in the right direction and will increase accountability at the agency. My amendment also shields those who are responsible for processing the claims so they may continue their work to reduce the backlog.
It makes those charged with leading the agency accountable for its performance. This is a common-sense approach employed by companies like Chevron, Macy’s, United Airlines, JC Penney, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.
By combing targeted investments with much-needed reforms and oversight, we can get this backlog under control and get our veterans the care they need. It is the least we owe to them.
Are you or someone you know experiencing trouble with the Veterans Administration or another agency of the federal government? If so, call 912-352-0101 or email me through my website, kingston.house.gov, to contact my office so we may assist you.
Kingston serves the 1st Congressional District of Georgia, which includes Liberty and Long counties.