House lawmakers to examine VA’s handling of disability appeals

December 4, 2013
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House lawmakers plan to examine how the Department of Veterans Affairs is dealing with a growing backlog of appeals for denied disability benefits.

The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday with testimony from veterans-advocacy groups and administration officials who oversee the VA’s processing of such claims, which have increased by 50 percent since President Obama took office.

MORE: Veterans face another backlog as a quarter-million appeal disability claims

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, suggested in a statement Tuesday that the panel would focus on whether the VA is processing the most complicated disability claims properly.

Matthew Goldberg, a retired Army special forces soldier who fought the VA for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries, at his home in Hampstead, N.C., on Sept. 7. (Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post).
Matthew Goldberg, a retired Army special forces soldier who fought the VA for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries, at his home in Hampstead, N.C., on Sept. 7. (Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post).

“Every veteran filing a claim deserves a thorough, fair and timely evaluation of their case,” Miller said. “Claim complexity should not interfere with this concept.”

The VA has made progress this year in reducing a backlog of first-time disability claims, but a new problem has cropped up with an increasing caseload of appeals, which often involve multiple medical issues and serious disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and sexual trauma.

Recent audits have raised concerns about the VA’s ability to properly process those types of claims. For example, the department’s inspector general’s office found that more than half of the regional offices it reviewed during the past four years had improperly processed claims of traumatic brain injuries, according to an announcement from the subcommittee.

The subcommittee will hear testimony from Bettye McNutt, the spouse of a Vietnam War veteran who succumbed to cancer with an alleged link to Agent Orange exposure. The widow is involved in a 23-year old claim for benefits promised to the surviving family members of veterans who die of service-related medical conditions.

The VA has improperly denied McNutt’s claim seven times since 1990, according to her prepared testimony. “Because of the VA’s frequent mistakes, I have been forced to live in poverty, sometimes without heat and electricity as a widow raising a son orphaned by the Vietnam War,” the witness said in her statement.

The hearing on Wednesday is scheduled to start at 3 p.m.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestion.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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