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VA mess

Published July 17. 2014 04:00PM

The amount of recent media coverage about illegal immigrants flooding through our southern border has deflected attention from the reported problems at our veterans' facilities.

The VA has reported that the huge backlog of claims for disability benefits, which reached about 611,000 in early 2013, has been reduced, but that has spawned a new problem. A recent report by the Office of Inspector General at the VA says tens of thousands of veterans are improperly receiving benefits that are not supported by medical evidence. Over the next five years, those unsupported payments to veterans are expected to total about $371 million.

Pennsylvania has 2 million older residents, the third-largest population of older residents in the country, and this figure includes many veterans. There are some 953,644 veterans in the state, which makes it imperative for them to receive their proper care.

Nearly two months ago, amid an investigation into the wait times and delays in care at VA hospitals across the country, Sen. Robert Sen. Casey discussed a bipartisan plan to reduce the Veterans Affairs claims backlog at a news conference in Luzerne County.

Since it was the day after Memorial Day, Casey stated that legislators can't just salute veterans for their service on patriotic holidays once or twice a year but that they need to be honored every day of the year. He said steps must be taken to assure veterans benefits are consistent with what they have done for their country and that there are common-sense steps that can reduce the claims backlog of veterans.

Casey has made the veterans claims issue a priority. He teamed with Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada to lead a bipartisan group of 65 senators in sending President Obama a letter 15 months ago expressing disapproval of the VA backlog. The letter called on the president to get personally involved in solving the problem.

He also called on then Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to work together to transition to an electronic transfer system for veterans records, which he said would help reduce the VA backlog and provide more accurate processing of information.

Casey says that veterans benefits should not be subject to partisan politics. We agree, but with the midterm elections looming, we'd have to see the politicians walk their talk before we believed them.

By Jim Zbick

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