House adopts proposals to fix VA claims backlog

The House on Wednesday adopted multiple amendments to the first fiscal 2015 appropriations bill of the year to address the backlog of benefits claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Members first gave voice vote approval to an amendment offered by Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) that would increase funding for the Veterans Affairs (VA) inspector general by $1 million. It would be offset by reducing funds for the Office of General Administration by the same amount.

The Arizona lawmakers touted their proposal as a response to recent allegations that a VA hospital  in Phoenix maintained a "secret waiting list" to avoid reporting on extended care delays. The House Veterans Affairs Committee said earlier this month said that the delays may have caused as many as 40 deaths. 

"This is unconscionable," Salmon said. "This is the least we can do."

Sinema said that increasing funds for the inspector general's office would help boost staffing to investigate the nationwide delays in processing veterans' claims.

"We need answers for Phoenix, but this is not an isolated incident," Sinema said.

Members also adopted, by voice vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) that would increase general operating expenses for veterans benefits administration by $10 million.

Additionally, a Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) amendment adopted by voice vote would provide $5 million for digital scanning of health and benefits files as the VA transitions to an electronic system for processing claims.