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Sen. Al Franken, Published July 18 2013

Letter: Senate legislation can help end veterans benefits backlog

Our troops’ battles don’t always end when they return home. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from veterans from the Fargo-Moorhead area and across Minnesota who have returned bearing the scars of war – mental and physical disabilities incurred while protecting our freedoms. All they expect in return for their service is that our nation keeps its promises to them.

With the end of the war in Iraq, and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the number of disabled veterans who need care is increasing exponentially. Despite the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs is processing more claims today than at any time in history, veterans are waiting too long to receive the benefits they have earned, creating an unnecessary financial hardship for veterans and their families.

The VA reports that more than 550,000 veterans have been waiting longer than 125 days to have their claim processed. While the VA is currently making progress, there are common-sense measures Congress can undertake to bolster the VA’s efforts to ensure our veterans are getting the care they need in a timelier manner.

Red tape

In response to Minnesota veterans and veterans’ organizations who have told me about the hardships the VA backlog imposes on veterans, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to help speed up the process.

My measure, known as the “Quicker Benefits Delivery Act,” will remove several hurdles to getting claims processed quickly. The legislation also ensures that disabled veterans can get at least some help and support while their claims are still being adjudicated.

Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, a veteran, has introduced identical legislation in the House.

First, my measure would allow local doctors to conduct disability medical examinations for veterans. This conserves VA resources, and cuts back on long wait times at VA hospitals.

The bill requires the VA to award interim benefits to clearly disabled veterans whose cases are still undergoing review to determine the full extent of their disabilities.

And for veterans who go back to school under the GI Bill, the bill authorizes the VA to pay housing benefits more quickly so that student veterans can pay their rent on time.

My goal with this legislation is simple: to uphold the promises we’ve made to our veterans by ending the backlog and getting them the benefits they have earned and deserve.

Franken, D-Minn., is in his first term in the U.S. Senate.