U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wants to speed up the appeals process for veterans with disability claims.
Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, introduced legislation Wednesday requiring at least three staffers to review appeals at each of 56 regional Veterans Affairs offices. The regional offices in New Hampshire and Vermont each have only one.
Shaheen said the change would reduce a backlog of appeals that grew 76 percent from 2009 to 2012. Her bill also would require the VA to report to Congress on the feasibility of increasing capacity at other levels of the appeals process.
“I’ve heard time and again from New Hampshire veterans that have spent years waiting on their appeals and this is entirely unacceptable,” she said. “The VA must do better; I’ve spoken with Secretary (Eric) Shinseki directly on this issue several times and yet we still haven’t seen the results we were promised.”
Shaheen also is co-sponsoring a bill with Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins that would make all disabled veterans eligible for free, lifetime passes to national parks. The bill would amend a 2004 law that gives such passes only to veterans who are classified as having a 100 percent disability.
The bills come as several Senate Republicans, as well as Republican Senate hopeful Scott Brown, are calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign over allegations of corruption and avoidable deaths at a Phoenix veterans’ hospital. Brown, who is seeking the GOP nomination in hopes of challenging Shaheen in November, said while he respects Shinseki’s service to the country, the VA must be held accountable.
“President Obama needs to install new leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs that will finally address persistent reports of gross mismanagement and restore confidence in an agency that has failed in its basic mission,” he said.
Shaheen, who asked the White House to investigate the Phoenix allegations last month, said both the claims backlog and the Phoenix allegations represent serious problems at the VA.
“I’ve called for a thorough investigation of the agency’s alleged misconduct and once that investigation is complete, those responsible should be held accountable, up to and including the Secretary,” she said.