Raleigh, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan says she is continuing to push the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce a backlog of cases at the regional office in Winston-Salem.
The Democrat sent a letter to the department last week complaining that more than 7,000 veterans with claims pending at that office had waited more than a year for a ruling on disability benefits. That letter echoes the findings of a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting that found more veterans wait longer today for disability benefits than when President Barack Obama took office.
"The ranks of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits grew from 11,000 in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, to 245,000 in December," the center found.
Hagan called the national problem "totally unacceptable," but her response has been focused on Winston-Salem.
In her letter last week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to "dispatch senior officials from the VA Headquarters in Washington to North Carolina to ensure the Winston-Salem regional office receives the necessary assistance."
Hagan said she has not received a response to that letter.
Congress has set aside funding for the VA and Department of Defense to improve the system that handles veteran benefit claims. The goal, according to Shinseki, is to reduce the wait time for benefit rulings to under 125 days for all applicants by 2015.
Hagan said Tuesday that veterans should not have to wait three years for the problem to be fixed.
"If it's a manpower issue, we need to address it immediately," she said.
Winston-Salem is one of the most problematic offices in the country, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting and PBS News Hour, which cited auditors findings that paperwork was stacked so high in the office it was unsafe to inhabit.
Hagan said that VA funding would not be affected by sequestration, but she did not have an answer as to how Congress might fix the overall backlog.
One veteran, who is also a reporter for local newspaper, asked on a Tuesday conference call what the senator could do to keep people like him from waiting more than six months just to be seen for the first time by VA medical staff.
"For you to have to wait six months in unacceptable," Hagan said.