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Schumer supports two bills aimed at cutting VA backlog

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CANTON - More can be done to fight the backlog of service members’ disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

“The backlog is keeping our vets from getting basic care in a timely manner, and it’s unacceptable,” Sen. Schumer said.

In a conference call Wednesday, the senator said the average wait for veterans in the state to have their claims processed is 400 days. He is promoting as part of the 2014 defense spending authorization two bills to reduce the wait. The Senate will begin debating the bill in the next few weeks.

“We don’t expect delays from our soldiers when they’re shipped overseas and placed in combat,” Sen. Schumer said. “We shouldn’t tolerate delays of such significant magnitude from the DOD and VA when our soldiers seek access to the benefits they are entitled to and they have earned.”

The first bill would require the Department of Defense and VA to create a system to make their health record programs compatible within a year, and the second would mandate that the VA hire more claims processors to fight the backlog.

The north country has more than a thousand veterans with backlogged cases. According to numbers released by the senator’s office, Jefferson County has 583 pending claims, St. Lawrence County has 288 and Lewis County has 160. The upstate region had a total of 14,795 unprocessed claims, Sen. Schumer said.

Sen. Schumer said the current incompatibility between the two departments’ records systems increases the time for evidence gathering and decision making, and brings with it the costs for veterans to take redundant tests.

“Once we have them compatible, you can just press a button and send the records over,” he said.

The incompatibility of the two systems is even more worrisome, the senator said, as many soldiers come back from tours overseas with injuries.

“For them, the treatment plan stretches from the battlefield to inpatient or outpatient care in the United States to transition back into military duty or for the more seriously injured to civilian life,” Sen. Schumer said. “Medical information is captured during each of these phases, but without the universal medical records systems critical pieces of information are often lost or could simply take far too long to gather.”

The combined system bill, the Servicemembers Electronic Health Records Act of 2013, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., while the hiring effort, the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013, is sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The push for an record system changes comes at the same time as the discovery of several technical problems with the launch of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Schumer said that the comparison didn’t fit.

“This is something is known, that they know how to do,” he said. “Making two existing computer systems compatible is a lot easier than setting up a new system.”

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