On Your Side: Sen. Heller pushes for new legislation

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Updated: 3/06/2014 11:28 pm
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- Nevada Senator Dean Heller made headlines last year with plans to fix the broken VA system plagued with backlogs and reporting errors.

On Thursday, Senator Heller joined with four other members of Congress, as part of the bi-partisan VA Backlog Working Group. The goal is to introduce new legislation to further the VA's mission to have zero backlogs by 2015.

This report and legislation comes after Sen. Heller responded to an On Your Side investigation. It uncovered the Reno VA office had lost a Gulf War Marine's file challenging the VA decision to deny his disability request as he battles cancer.

"At best, waiting over 125 days for a disability compensation claim can be frustrating and tiresome," said Senator Heller. "At worst, for a veteran, it can be financially and emotionally disturbing."

The bi-partisan report outlines how the VA is still struggling to eliminate outlandish wait times for veteran's claims. The struggles continue despite increased funding for the VA for the past three years.

In addition to the report, the four members submitted the 21st Century Veteran's Benefits Delivery Act. It is legislation targeting three main issues, including:
  • Help veterans understand how to file claims and know what benefits they are entitled to receive
  • Help regional VA offices run more efficient through an AUDIT process
  • Better accountability at a federal level by requiring agencies to exchange information more efficiently
Since last year's formation of the backlog group and spirited discussions with the veteran's committee headed by Sen. Heller, dozens of pieces of legislation have been introduced. But very few have been taken up by Congress and even fewer have made it to the President's desk.

One veteran's advocacy group said this has does as much good as no legislation at all. "Congress have offered a lot of bills. The problem is, just like other bills in Congress today, it's tough to get things done," said Nick McCormick, Legislative Liaison with Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's of America. "These bills haven't become law yet, so Congress is going to have to get their act together and make a law."

Something Gulf War Marine Matthew Parker says is well-intentioned, but until Congress picks up the bill and it is signed by the President, it does little good. "There can be any level of talk that says this is fantastic news, but until people start to see results, it's essentially a paper tiger and there's nothing behind it."

Parker is still waiting on his claim after the Reno VA office lost his rebuttal file, which challenged the VA's denial for disability after Parker was diagnosed with two brain tumors. Knowing Thursday's announcement may take months to become reality, Parker says he has a few ideas on how to fix the backlog problem immediately.

"Where's the Obamacare workers? Bring 5,000 of them across the table, and put them to work immediately for the VA. Bring the leaders of big-time companies. I don't know where Google stands, but bring them to the table and start fielding suggestions on how to streamline a process that is stuck in the 1940's or 50's or whatever year it's stuck in."

The issue is not money. The VA has received additional funding in recent years to help. Some are hoping President Obama will use executive orders to authorize action.

You can read Matthew Parker's story at these links: Part 1, Part 2, and Wednesday night's follow-up.
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