WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is searching for answers for 8th District veterans in a letter to Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. In his letter, Fitzpatrick asks Shinseki's office to provide information regarding the number of veterans who died in 2012 while waiting for their disability claims to be processed at the Philadelphia Veteran Affairs Regional Office (VARO).
"For the last two years, I have been working to hold the Philadelphia VARO accountable for the services they provide to our veterans," said Fitzpatrick. "Unfortunately, I believe that the unacceptable amount of time it is taking to process claims is proving too long for those with rapidly declining health. I remain hopeful that I will be able to work with Secretary Shinseki and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide more effective and efficient service to the men and women who have served us in the military."
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, 19,500 veterans passed away nationwide while waiting for the VA to review their disability benefits claims. Furthermore, the VA Inspector General has found that claims take an average of 272 days to be processed – an increase of about 40% from 2011 – despite the implementation of a modernization program.
The text of Fitzpatrick's letter is included below:
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
March 4, 2013
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
I write to learn the number of veterans who died in 2012 while waiting for their disability claims to be processed at the Philadelphia Veteran Affairs Regional Office (VARO).
I represent the Eighth Congressional District of Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives. My district is home to thousands of veterans or their survivors who receive benefits from the Philadelphia VARO.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, 19,500 veterans passed away while waiting for the VA to review their disability benefits claims. Furthermore, the VA Inspector General has found that claims take an average of 272 days to be processed – an increase of about 40% from 2011 – despite the implementation of a modernization program. In addition, one of the problems that exacerbate delays is chronic errors. The same report analyzed eighteen reports issued in 2012 by the V.A.’s Inspector General and discovered that auditors found mistakes in more than 1 in 3 high-profile claims that they evaluated.
Frustrated current and former VA employees, as well as disillusioned veterans, have brought to my attention the failure of the Philadelphia VARO to provide services in an efficient and timely manner. In addition, it is important to note that the Office’s mishandling of claims comes at a high cost to taxpayers. By understanding the problems that beset the Philadelphia VARO, we can work towards measures that improve the quality of service of every VARO.
Furthermore, the performance of the Philadelphia VARO mirrors the disturbing track record of regional offices nationwide. According to the VA, the Philadelphia VARO was thirty-percent below its goal in the measurement of rating claims processing time during 2012. In December 2012, for instance, the average rating claims processing time was 268 days. In that same month, the percentage of compensation disability claims that are pending for more than 125 days was sixty-nine percent. As a result of the Philadelphia office’s subpar management, local veterans and their families endure significant angst, and in some cases, a serious decline in their health as they wait to receive their benefits.
I appreciate your time and consideration in looking into this matter. I look forward to working with you and your staff in finding ways to introduce greater efficiency and accountability to the Philadelphia VARO and other Regional Offices. In doing so, the Department of Veterans Affairs can ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted and that our veterans are provided superior care in a timely fashion.
MICHAEL G. FITZPATRICK
Member of Congress