TOGUS — Veterans seeking medical treatment for combat wounds at the nation’s Veterans Affairs facilities face a claims process that is often too slow and cumbersome, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said Friday during a visit to Togus Medical Center.

“We are still manually processing claims,” Shinseki said. “It’s a system that hasn’t served veterans as well as we’d like.”

Shinseki visited Togus with Maine Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud to discuss VA priorities and health care for rural veterans.

Michaud, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, is promoting efforts to expand health care to rural Maine veterans via community-based clinics and mobile outpatient clinics.

Shinseki said the manual claims process is at least partly to blame for last month’s Inspector General’s report that determined Togus had to improve its accuracy in processing disability claims.

The VA has established four pilot programs aimed at creating better claims processing nationwide, Shinseki said. “We’ll be fully automated by the end of the year.”

There also is an effort under way at the U.S. Department of Defense to create an electronic, lifetime file on anyone entering the armed forces.

That file would be automatically shared with the VA.

Having each individual’s electronic information on file would create a more seamless transition to VA enrollment, Shinseki said.

“Automation is an important part of that,” he said.

Shinseki said the VA also must improve its treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Every young veteran who enrolls with the VA now is provided a mental health screening.

Shinseki said his administration is committed to ending homelessness among veterans within five years.

There are currently about 107,000 homeless veterans nationwide.

The VA recently allocated $39 million to fund about 2,200 new transitional housing beds through grants to local providers.

“We’ve had an estimated 18 percent improvement just because we’re putting a spotlight on this,” Shinseki said.

A disproportionate percentage of veterans suffer from homelessness and joblessness, as well as mental health and substance abuse issues.

“This is not about them, it’s about us,” Shinseki said. “There are missed opportunities.”

There was a 16 percent increase in the VA budget in 2010, Shinseki said. That increase is the largest in more 30 years.

“What I’m describing is an opportunity for the VA to take care of issues that have needed addressing for a long time,” Shinseki said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.