Among the most moving events I’ve had the privilege and honor of attending as your representative in Congress have been those associated with our veterans.
As we prepare to observe Veterans Day on Nov. 11, I am reminded how deeply moving these events are and that they provide me with added inspiration when I return to Washington to work on veterans’ issues.
Our district offices in Missouri have dealt with a total of 77 cases related to veterans since January 2013 on a variety of topics including benefits, aid and attendance claims, obtaining medical records and the awarding of previously earned medals. And I am extremely proud to say our staff has had great success in helping to resolve these various issues on behalf of our 3rd Congressional District veterans. Additionally, we have already held one Veterans Workshop in Jefferson City earlier this year and will be in Troy, this Nov. 25 for another in which we make resources available to help folks navigate the often confusing federal system. These Veterans Workshops, which we began last year, have proven to be extremely successful, both in terms of the number of veterans who attend and by the number of veterans’ organizations that participate.
To be sure, I am very troubled by recent reports that show two-thirds of all pending disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have been waiting more than 125 days. Even more troubling, these reports come among others that indicate the VA has not met internal benchmarks towards its goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015. I recently voted for H.R. 2189 that establishes a commission or task force to evaluate the backlog of disability claims of the VA. I also supported legislation establishing a Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration within the VA to enable the department to focus on veterans’ transition to civilian life; a bill requiring the VA Secretary to provide an appeals form along with any benefits denial notification; and legislation extending the term of a special veteran students advisory committee for two years.
The VA is a large bureaucracy in which our veterans often get lost. Congress must ensure that the VA has the resources it needs to function properly and the Administration must ensure that we have the best talent and leadership running the department. To that end, in this year’s House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, we increased funding for the VA by $2.1 billion over last year’s enacted level. This includes ample funding for the paperless claims process system and the digital scanning of health records, two functions designed to help eliminate the backlog of claims. In addition, the bill calls for rigorous reporting requirements to track the efficiency of each regional office on claims processing.
Though we are currently operating on a continuing resolution while the House and Senate discuss long term funding issues, I am dedicated to ensuring that any long-term budget deal includes proper funding to address the claims backlog and other VA programs.
At the end of the day, as Americans, we owe our veterans a debt that must be paid for their service. They put their lives on the line to stand up to our enemies, both foreign and domestic, so the least we can do is provide them with the resources to maintain their quality of life. Please know that I will continue to not only honor our veterans but to work on their behalf as your representative in the United States Congress. God bless our veterans and God bless the United States of America.