March 04, 2013

Gillibrand Urges VA Secretary to Reduce Over One-Year Long Backlog of Veterans Claims at New York City VA Office

NYC VA Office Has One of the Longest Wait Times in the Nation, With An Average Wait Time of More than 400 Days

New York – With New York veterans facing one of the longest wait times in the nation when it comes to processing cases by their local Veterans Affairs (VA) office in New York City, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to deploy teams of staff from other regional offices to help speed up the growing backlog of cases at the city’s local VA office. With 12,500 cases still pending through the city office, veterans have to wait on average 412 days before their claims are processed.

“Our veterans who have made incredible sacrifices protecting our freedom have been waiting too long to secure the benefits they have earned,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They deserve better. No veteran should have to wait more than a year to get an answer on their claim while the bills continue to pile up month after month. I urge Secretary Shinseki to deploy the desperately needed resources to help speed up this unacceptable backlog.”

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Shinseki, “It is unacceptable that those who have fought for our country should have to wait more than a year to have their claims reviewed at this regional office. Therefore, I am respectfully requesting that additional teams of claims processors be deployed to the New York City regional office in order to help with this backlog… While I know the VA is working hard to transition to a new system, the backlog in the current system continues to grow, and these veterans cannot afford to wait another day to receive a response.”

Last month, the VA announced that two 17-member teams of claims handlers from regional offices were dispatched to the VA office in Baltimore, MD. The teams are set to work in Baltimore through March to help improve the claims process. 

The New York City VA office handles a majority of New York veterans’ claims, including those residing throughout New York City, Long Island, Hudson Valley, and the Capital Region. A 2011 audit by the Office of the Inspector General found that 31% of veterans’ disability claims through the city office were processed incorrectly. Senator Gillibrand noted that since January 2013, her office received more than 50 casework requests regarding delayed claims. With veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and many suffering from critical injuries, Senator Gillibrand pressed the urgent need to immediately address the backlog.     

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Senator Gillibrand and VA Secretary Shinseki met with evacuated veterans and patients at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. Senator Gillibrand is also an original co-sponsor of the Ruth Moore Act which will make it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to get the VA benefits they need.

Senator’s full text of letter is below:

 

Dear Secretary Shinseki,

 

            I am writing to you regarding the backlog of claims at the VA regional office in New York City.  I am very concerned about the amount of time our veterans are waiting in order to have their claims processed. It is unacceptable that those who have fought for our country should have to wait more than a year to have their claims reviewed at this regional office. Therefore, I am respectfully requesting that additional teams of claims processors be deployed to the New York City regional office in order to help with this backlog.

 

            I understand from published reports that the VA has sent in additional support to other regional offices facing similar backlogs, most notably in Baltimore, to review the management of the office and to help process claims. Such support would be eminently useful in the New York City regional office, as reports indicate that this office continues to be among the slowest in the nation, with an average wait time of approximately 412 days.  Since the beginning of 2013, my office has received fifty new casework requests relating to the backlog in the New York City regional office.  Each of these cases represents a veteran in need, whether it be to pay the rent, buy food, support their family, or simply to receive a just compensation for the wounds and sacrifices made on behalf of the nation.

 

We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they have made. However, as more veterans come home from war, and more and more survive the injuries they have suffered, we are seeing an increase in the number of claims being submitted. While I know the VA is working hard to transition to a new system, the backlog in the current system continues to grow, and these veterans cannot afford to wait another day to receive a response.

 

            I am grateful for the work you have done on behalf of our veterans, and the changes that you are working to implement. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your prompt response.