Sen. Burr: Not another battle for veterans

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) took the Department of Veterans Affairs to task over the lengthy wait many veterans face for disability compensation.

In Saturday's weekly Republican address, Burr said the backlog of disability claims from wounded veterans began to improve only after frequent lambasting by The Daily Show.

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“The now infamous backlog of claims reached a point of national embarrassment last year when a series of biting monologues from comedian Jon Stewart finally elevated the problem to the president’s desk and spurred his VA secretary into action,” said the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It was only then we began seeing some signs of incremental progress.”

“When it takes a comedian to garner a response from our government, we are in bad shape,” he continued, adding that there are still more than 700,000 families waiting on a response to claims or appeals.

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to have all claims processed with 98 percent accuracy within 125 days by 2015, a goal the VA says it’s on track to meet.

“We regularly hear from veterans who are experiencing unacceptable delays and waiting times for mental health counseling and other health services,” Burr said in the address. “These delays have real life implications for veterans, especially for those at risk of lapsing back into isolation or a downward spiral that can be difficult to stop.” 

The average wait for an appeal that goes through all the administrative steps has been 1,598 days, or more than four years, according to 2012 statistics from the department.

“As the nation’s military stands down from its war footing, veterans should not have to wage another battle here at home, this time against government bureaucracy,” he continued.

Burr then turned his attention to the newer soldiers returning home looking for work after having served, or older veterans struggling with homelessness.

“Our younger veterans are entering civilian life during one of the slowest economic recoveries in our nation’s history,” he said. “Some states have passed laws that issue licenses to veterans, or certifications, for the skill sets they gained while in the military, provided their training met the state’s standard. 

He called for reforms to help veterans get jobs without having to duplicate classes taken or certifications earned while in the military. 

“Our veterans understand these are challenging times and that the government is limited in its capacity, but they also have high expectations after the promises that have been made,” Burr said. 

“The answer to these problems will not be found in new offices and new employees in Washington, D.C. The answer lies with Congress’ responsibility to ensure that VA programs are operating in the way they were intended – and meeting the needs of the veterans, not the DC bureaucrats — and inside the communities that our veterans live in.”