A recent VA report shows that the backlog of VA disability claims is more than 450,000 with nearly 190,000 claims that have been pending for more than 125 days. VA officials, however, promise that the backlog will be cleared by the end of the year.
Recently Washington lawmakers introduced a bill (referred to informally as the “backlog bill”) which would allow private doctors to perform a disability exam. Under current law disabled vets must go to a VA facility for this exam. “Letting vets see local doctors would cut down on long wait times at VA hospitals and save veterans who live in rural areas a lengthy trip to the nearest VA facility,” the bill’s sponsors said.
“After these brave men and women put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is ensure they are getting the benefits they have earned in a timely manner,” said Representative Timothy Walz, (D-MN) and co-sponsor of the bill. “I recognize this problem was not created, nor will it be solved, overnight, but we can and must do better.”
To help ease the backlog at VA health facilities, last year Congress established the Choice Card program, which allows vets to get medical care from a private doctor if the vet lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility or has been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment. Although generally lauded as a step in the right direction, some veterans have criticized the Choice Card program. While VA facility may be within 40 miles of a veteran’s home it may not offer the specific service that vet needs, they say. Furthermore, the 40 miles are “as the crow flies” but the actual distance by road may be much longer. Senator Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican and chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee has promised to ease the 40 mile rule to open up private medical care to more veterans. “We are committed in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to make the 40-mile rule work, make the Veterans Choice bill work,” he said at a recent hearing.