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Hoyer, VA Promise Help for Veterans

Reports that the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) was lagging behind in the processing of claims submitted by military veterans have gotten the attention of elected officials. The fact that the Baltimore Regional Office was one of the slowest processors in the nation raised the hackles of several elected officials, including U.S. House of Representatives Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer [D-District 5]. “I was shocked,” said Hoyer, who added he then got the Maryland Congressional Delegation involved. “This is unacceptable. Frankly, we need to get every state in a position where we are processing claims in a timely manner.”

Hoyer made his remarks during a meeting he conducted Friday, May 10 at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. Mike Scheibel, the director of the Baltimore office, along with representatives of the district’s veterans groups were in attendance. Two local elected officials—St. Mary’s County Commissioner Daniel L. Morris [R-District 2] and Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw [R]—were also at the meeting.

Hoyer said some veterans filing claims have waited almost two years for the process to be finalized. He blamed the problems on training and leadership.

Scheibel, whose office administers benefit programs for Maryland’s approximately 450,000 veterans, said the Baltimore facility is currently working with “an intense focus on all claims that are a year old.”

In a press release, Hoyer explained the Maryland Congressional Delegation met with U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki “to discuss how the VA intends to improve the functionality of the Baltimore Regional Office and retain a quality workforce.

Shinseki announced in April the Baltimore office would receive additional training, an influx of senior staff and a new digital processing system.

Scheibel reported the retraining program has already resulted in improved quality and headway is being made in getting claims through the processing pipeline. He explained some of the sluggishness likely was the result of the office taking on a veterans disabilities program—the Integrated Disability Evaluation System—in 2007 that involved every military installation in the country. Scheibel indicated response to the program exceeded expectations. Hoyer noted there was a substantial increase in VA funding in 2008, a development that occurred when the global economy began plummeting.

“Resources are down across the board,” said Hoyer, who affirmed the U.S. Government “has a moral responsibility” to provide veterans benefits.

Scheibel expressed confidence that the additional technology would aid his staff in processing claims quicker. Still, he cautioned that the system is still complicated and it often takes the VA two years to adequately train employees. Still, having the ability to obtain service records electronically “will help us turn the tide,” said Scheibel.

Morris reminded the federal officials that he and other military veterans did not regard VA benefits as a “handout,” and providing the assistance in obtaining such things as disability compensation, health benefits and home loans “is an obligation.”

“We’re going to stay on it until the system gets fixed,” said Hoyer.