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Toomey wants VA logjam resolved

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:10 a.m.

The plans in place to alleviate a crushing backlog of health and disability claims in the Department of Veterans Affairs are inadequate and the goals for resolving the backlog not ambitious enough, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said Friday.

Speaking after a roundtable discussion with veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 33 in Greensburg, Toomey said he's traveling around the state talking to veterans and to VA officials to figure out how to speed up the process.

“My goal is to get a plan that will go through this backlog more quickly. People shouldn't be waiting over a year for resolution of a claim,” said Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican.

An honorably discharged veteran who files a compensation claim related to getting sick or being injured or wounded in the service faces delays of longer than six months in most of the country before receiving an initial decision, called a “rating” by the VA.

The backlog ballooned despite a 40 percent increase in the VA's benefits budget in the past four years.

“I've asked whether it's a matter of getting more staff, or whether it's a matter of more technology or outside contractors who could help convert paper records into electronic form,” Toomey said. “I've asked these things and I'm not entirely satisfied with the answer I've been getting.”

Toomey's remarks capped off a day of casework at the VFW where Toomey's staff aimed to help veterans resolve a range of problems with the VA and other federal agencies.

Larry “Kim” Hart, 66, said he's hoping Toomey's office can provide the nudge he needs to receive increased disability payments for significant hearing loss he sustained after serving as an infantry firing range training officer during the Vietnam War.

“Nobody wore hearing protection devices back in the day,” said Hart, of Greensburg.

Hart said he was recently denied the increase by the VA. He's hoping a letter from Toomey's office will “have a little extra influence.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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