March 21, 2013

VA official grilled on vets' wait for help

Maine is doing much better than the VA overall, which needs on average 279 days to process a disability claim.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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As part of the recent changes, the department is putting more burden on the service officers to compile all of the necessary information.

Drake said she hopes the transition to an online system will help but there are still aspects to be worked out, such as notifying service officers when a veteran receives new information from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hickey said the decision in 2009 to accept more disability claims for Vietnam veterans who potentially were exposed to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange flooded the system with 260,000 additional claims.

Hickey said that after work on Agent Orange claims was complete, she directed regional offices to have their staffs focus on other claims that had been pending for two years or longer.

Focusing on new claims would have helped reduce the average wait, but Hickey said the department is trying to resolve the most delinquent claims first.

On Tuesday, Miller said he would like to see Hickey resign because of the backlog. But several veterans organizations, including Disabled Veterans of America, submitted written testimony praising Hickey's leadership and work with the groups to address concerns.

Although he's concerned about the backlog, Michaud has not pushed for Hickey's resignation.

"He's concerned that a change in leadership at (the Veterans Benefits Administration) at this time would force things to start all over again," said Ed Gilman, Michaud's spokesman. "A replacement would have a steep learning curve and possibly further delay much-needed reforms to VA's processing."

 

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

 

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