VA official wants patience; 895,000 claims are pending
WASHINGTON — An embattled Veterans Affairs Department official responsible for the growing mountain of benefits claims pleaded on Wednesday for more time to show success in getting them processed.
Allison Hickey, the retired Air Force brigadier general who for two years has been VA's undersecretary for benefits, said she continues to believe it is possible to eliminate the backlog of claims by the end of 2015 and to complete initial claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.
The heap of pending claims is growing because she has ordered offices to look at the oldest claims first, which means 2-year-old claims now are being completed ahead of newer claims, she said.
“It would have made our productivity look better, but I chose not (to),” she said.
Hickey testified before a skeptical House Veterans' Affairs Committee, a panel whose chairman has called for her removal.
“There are many people, myself included, who are losing patience as we continue to hear the same excuses from VA about increased workload and increased complexity of claims,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the committee chairman.
“VA's demonstrated history shows its inability or refusal to forecast problems and anticipate its needs,” Miller said. “The only people paying a price for this failure are the veterans. The time for excuses is over.”
Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine, the panel's ranking Democrat, said he is skeptical that the department can meet its goal because it would require processing 3.4 million claims in 2½ years.
Hickey's testimony comes as VA has more than 895,000 pending claims, with 70 percent older than 125 days, the agency's self-imposed processing deadline.
As she testified, a veteran sat in a wheelchair in the front row at the hearing, holding a sign that said he has had a claim pending for 2,560 days. He occasionally changed signs, with another that said he also has been waiting 200 days for a heart bypass operation at a Miami veterans hospital.
Not only Congress has the feeling that solving the claims problem would take more than the department can manage. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing for a presidential commission to study the issue and make outside recommendations.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Family finds $1M gold treasure in Florida
- Cat found alive aboard sunken boat pulled from Lake Havasu
- They still have snow in Buffalo
- Hope dims for Fla. teens lost at sea
- Artists’ community in Calif. reeling after girl’s death; teen boy arrested
- Maine governor-lawmakers spat puts 65 bills in limbo
- Human rights issues cloud Obama’s trip to Kenya, Ethiopia
- San Francisco’s Chinatown clings to roots amid tech boom
- Pollard, spy for Israel in the 1980s, to be released from prison
- GOP says there’s no deal with Clinton on Benghazi testimony
- Health spending growth to rebound