Text: H.R.2138 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in House (05/23/2013)


113th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 2138


To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to resolve the backlog of disability claims of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.


IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

May 23, 2013

Mr. McCarthy of California (for himself, Mr. Miller of Florida, and Mr. Coffman) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on Armed Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned


A BILL

To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to resolve the backlog of disability claims of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Short title.

This Act may be cited as the “Ending VA Claims Disability Backlog and Accountability Act”.

SEC. 2. Findings.

Congress finds the following:

(1) The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is statutorily obligated to provide to individuals who served in the Armed Forces and sustained an injury as a direct result of such service with health care, disability compensation, and related resources.

(2) Disability compensation payments are intended to provide relief for some of the socioeconomic and other losses veterans experience as a result of service-connected diseases and injuries.

(3) A recent review by the Government Accountability Office found that the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than tripled since 2009 and the average length of time to complete a claim has increased from 161 days in 2009 to 260 days in 2012.

(4) In August 2012, approximately 568,043 claims or two-thirds of all compensation rating claims are backlogged.

(5) The Government Accountability Office found that delays in obtaining service and medical records for veterans who served in the National Guard or Reserve is a significant factor in lengthening the claims process for these veterans even though they make up 43 percent of veterans who served during the Global War on Terrorism.

(6) The Government Accountability Office found that if a veteran submits a disability claim and reports receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs is required to help the veteran obtain relevant Federal records, including medical records from the Social Security Administration to process the claim.

(7) There is an interagency agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration, but the protocols of the Department and the response time of the Administration can take a year before the Department has obtained the requested information.

(8) The Government Accountability Office found that approximately 50 percent of claims processing staff have been in their current role for less than two years and are not yet proficient in their duties requiring supervision and review from more experienced claims processing staff, diverting them from their claims processing responsibilities.

(9) Veterans and their families have already selflessly and willingly sacrificed for our nation and faced numerous hardships; they should not have to continue to face undue and avoidable hardships after their service as they seek the benefits they earned.

(10) On March 24, 2013, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki stated in an interview on State of the Union television show, “no veteran should have to wait for claims as they are today. We have a fix for this. We're open for business. And we will end the backlog in 2015.”.

(11) On April 15, 2013, the Secretary, in written testimony before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate, again stated that the “VA remains focused on eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015 and processing all claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level.”.

(12) On April 19, 2013, the Secretary again stated in a New York Times article titled “V.A. Aims to Reduce Its Backlog of Claims”, that the Department will “eliminate the backlog by 2015.”.

(13) Numerous congressional inquiries for progress reports and detailed information regarding the disability claims backlog remain unanswered, while the Secretary continues to state the claims backlog will be eliminated by 2015, claims processing accuracy will be increased to 98 percent, and claims processing will take no longer than 125 days as a direct result of the “Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog” of the Department.

(14) The Government Accountability Office found that the “Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog” of the Department does not adequately articulate how the Department will meet its goals, and planning documents that the Department provided does not meet the established criteria of the Government Accountability Office for sound planning, potentially leading to concerns about the ability of the Department to reduce claims backlogs.

SEC. 3. Timeline and metrics to resolve backlog of disability claims.

(a) Implementation of Strategic Plan To Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall implement the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog, published by the Secretary on January 25, 2013, to ensure that by Memorial Day (May 25), 2015, each claim for disability compensation under the laws administered by the Secretary (in this Act referred to as a “claim”) is approved or denied by not later than 125 days after the date on which the claim is submitted with an accuracy rate of 98 percent.

(b) Supplemental report.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a supplemental report to the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog that includes the following:

(1) Specific measures, procedures, and metrics to assess the implementation of the plan pursuant to subsection (a).

(2) A detailed timeline to implement each initiative contained in the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog.

SEC. 4. Expedition of transfer of certain records.

(a) SSA records.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall enter into an agreement with the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to ensure that the Commissioner transfers to the Secretary disability or medical records of the Commissioner that the Secretary will use to evaluate a claim by not later than 30 days after the Secretary requests such records.

(b) DOD records.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall enter into an agreement with the Secretary of Defense to ensure that the Secretary of Defense transfers to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs medical records of members or former members of the Armed Forces that the Secretary will use to evaluate a claim by not later than 30 days after the Secretary requests such records.

(c) National Guard records.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense shall jointly—

(1) submit to Congress a plan to reduce to 30 days the amount of time needed to provide members of the National Guard and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the medical records of such members, including by partnering with appropriate officials of Federal or State departments or agencies; and

(2) implement such plan.

SEC. 5. Claims processors training.

(a) Establishment.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall establish a training program to provide newly hired claims processors of the Department of Veterans Affairs with training for a period of not less than three years. In carrying out such program, the Secretary shall identify successful claims processors of the Department who can assist in the training of newly hired claims processors.

(b) Ability to process claims.—The Secretary shall carry out the training program established under subsection (a) without increasing the amount of time in which claims are processed by the Department.

SEC. 6. Reports by Comptroller General of the United States.

(a) Reports.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and each 90-day period thereafter, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to Congress a report on the progress of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in implementing the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog pursuant to section 3(a).

(b) Matters included.—Each report under subsection (a) shall include the following:

(1) Whether the Secretary is meeting the timeline of the Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog.

(2) An analysis of the implementation by the Secretary of such plan.

(3) Administrative or regulatory recommendations of the Comptroller General with respect to improving the ability of the Secretary to carry out section 3(a).