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Kirkpatrick’s VA backlog legislation becomes law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – VA CORE, the bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., to help tackle the massive claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is now a law. It was included as an amendment in the Department of Defense reauthorization bill signed by the president at the end of 2013.

The passage is a key victory from Kirkpatrick’s work in the 113th Congress on behalf of veterans, and it builds on her veterans-related accomplishments from the 111th Congress. She is Arizona’s only member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and serves as Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“We have a responsibility to stand up for veterans, and VA CORE is the kind of bipartisan, common-sense effort that can improve their quality of life,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m so pleased it has become law, but there’s more to be done. I’ll keep listening to our veterans across District One, and I’ll keep working to ensure they have the support and resources they’ve earned.” (audio file attached)

The VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency, which passed the House in June, amendment directs the Department of Defense to provide the complete service treatment records of veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs in an efficient, electronic format. Currently, the average veteran waits more than 250 days for a decision on a claim. About 175 days of that time is the VA waiting for the DOD to send the complete records, which DOD currently processes on paper rather than electronically.

The VA CORE amendment will:

•Codify a plan both agencies agreed upon in February, in which Defense begins the immediate transfer of complete and certified service treatment records to VA, and electronic capabilities are in place by the end of 2013.

•Require the Department of Defense to provide certified, complete and electronic records to the Department of Veterans Affairs following military separation.

Backlog facts:

•The claims backlog is a growing and serious problem. As of December 30, 2013, VA had 636,029 claims pending. Of those, 377,409 claims were pending more than 125 days, at which point they are considered to be backlogged. Click here for weekly updates on VA claims.

•Veterans are filing disability compensation claims at historically high levels. VA now receives well over a million claims every year, and the numbers continue to grow.

•The current paper-based claims system was established following World War I. Since then, statute changes made the process more complex, but no administration invested in updating the system. It was not until 2009 that our nation finally invested heavily in modernizing the claims processing system.

Kirkpatrick has prioritized veterans’ issues on behalf of Arizona’s more than half-million veterans. In recent months, she introduced a bill to strengthen mental health care for rural veterans and their families, and a bill to boost construction of veteran nursing homes on tribal land.

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