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Houston Chronicle: Disabled Veterans underscore need to reduce claims backlog

By Joanna Raines

For an hour, at least, members of the House and Senate reached across the aisle and worked together Tuesday — a sight that seems to be nearly extinct in today’s political climate — in the name of helping American veterans.
 
Members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs met to hear the legislative priorities from the Disabled American Veterans.
The significance of the meeting was proved in attendance. Almost all committee members were in attendance, and the room was so full of supporters there wasn’t a spare seat to be had. Veteran’s traveled from around the country to speak to the biggest challenges facing Veterans in America.
 
Fourth junior vice commander and community service chairman for DAV Auxilary Craig Johniken came all the way from Lufkin. Johniken is the husband of Teresa Johniken, who is a disabled veteran and the DAV adjutant for the Texas chapter. Johniken said that the biggest issue facing Texas veterans is the backlog of claims, which prevent veterans from receiving their benefits in a timely manner. “You know, it seems to be pretty much the same everywhere. The backlog of claims is the biggest problem,”  Johniken said. Larry A. Polzin, DAV National Commander, said that as of February 9,2013 there were nearly 900,000 pending claims for disability compensation and pensions awaiting decisions, which is a 130 percent increase.
 
One member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said he recently met with the Waco regional offices which had the slowest processing claims center in the nation last year. He said the office has seen improvements in working off its backlog, and is committed to continuing to do so.
One of the solutions brought forward to solve the issue is the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). The VBMS has been called the “magic bullet” to solve the issue, and DAV urged the committee to ensure the system will be implemented. Flores said that he’s less optimistic that it will solve the problem alltogether, but that they seem to be moving in the right direction.
 
Other issues Polzin brought to the floor included an independent budget, PTSD, and a lack of outreach to Veterans who are in need of services. Polzin warned that the issues facing Veterans today are only going to intensify in the future. “VA confronts a rapidly aging health care capital infrastructure; rising long-term care needs of our declining World War II and Korean War veteran generations; an aging Vietnam-era population; and a new generation of war veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Polzin said. Overall, Johniken was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. He has attended the meeting for  seven years, and says the committee is always responsive and he thinks they are on the right track. “It’s always a major accomplishment for America’s disabled veterans commander to be able to testify to the house and senate for legislation for veterans rights,” Johniken said.
 
Likewise, Flores said he thought the meeting went well, and that Veterans did a good job of conveying their issues to the committee.
This is the first of a series of meetings that will allow Veterans organizations to express their legislative priorities. The next hearing will be on Thursday, and will hear the following organizations: The Retired Enlisted Association, Military Officers Association of America, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Blind Veterans Association, Wounded Warrior Project, Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
 
To read the full article, click here.