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Houston Chronicle: Rep. Bill Flores holds meeting on disability claims backlog and its effect on Texas veterans

By Lexi Smith

The Texas delegation met with Veterans Benefits Administration’s Undersecretary Allison Hickey Tuesday  to discuss the backlog of disability claims for Texas veterans.

Rep. Bill Flores of Bryan and Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso are the only Texans who serve on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. According to Flores, Texas has one of the largest populations of veterans in the country, making this issue particularly important to Texans.

“Rep. Beto O’Rourke and I have been intricately involved in the discussion and other colleagues have asked us what is going on. We thought it was appropriate, given the amount of veterans in Texas, to have Undersecretary Allison Hickey come visit with the Texas delegation to give an overview,” said Flores.

According to Concerned Veterans for America, about 900,000 veterans are waiting for their Veterans Affairs disability compensation claims. Out of that number, 70 percent of claims have backlogged for more than 125 days. In 2009, President Obama vowed to fix the problem, but since then, the backlog has increased more than 2,000 percent.

The VA office has stated that the backlog will not be resolved until 2015. According to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, the paperless claims processing system known as the Veterans Benefits Management System has been deployed to 46 out of 56 regional office locations, and about 18 percent of VA’s current claim inventory is in an electronic format.

During the bipartisan meeting on Tuesday with about 15 members of the Texas Delegation, General Hickey discussed the VA transformation plan that includes changes in culture, claims processing practices, and new processing systems. She also noted that the Texas Regional Offices are no longer at the bottom of the poor performing list. While this is true, Rep. Flores stated that the Regional Offices in Texas are still not where they should be.

“What we heard back from General Hickey is that they have all the people that they asked Congress to provide, they have all the money that they’ve asked congress to provide, and they have the proper systems. They are working on the culture to put veterans first and to do the right thing for the people who have defended our country. They are headed in the right direction,” said Flores.

According to the Bryan Republican, there is an e-benefit system where veterans will have the opportunity to enter a claim online and upload their supporting info on that claim. Several members of the Texas Delegation will put that link on their websites in order to make the process user friendly.

Texas had invested millions of dollars for the Texas Veterans Commission to pre-review the work and to package the claims in order to have a “fully developed claim”, said Flores. The Texas Veterans Commission State strike forces teams has reviewed over 17,000 claims, helped obtain evidence to advance 4,722 rating claims, and has had a significant impact overall at both of the Texas Regional Offices.

Flores posted this photo on Twitter: