It takes the Cleveland regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, on average, 456.6 days to process an area veteran’s disability claim, according to Ohio’s Republican congressional delegation, which sent a joint letter of disapproval this summer to VA.
That’s worse than the national average of 365.5 days, which itself has been cause for outrage among lawmakers and veterans’ groups nationally.
When the office of House Speaker John Boehner — Clark County’s representative since January — hosts an information night on Thursday in Springfield for local veterans to ask questions about benefits, that backlog likely will come up.
Boehner’s staff will meet with veterans at 5 p.m. that day at the Moose Lodge, 1802 Selma Road, alongside representatives from VA’s Cleveland office, where area claims are processed, in addition to the VA medical center system, the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and county-level veterans service offices.
In all, the West Chester Republican is holding three informational sessions on veteran benefits next week across the 8th District, including the first on Monday in Hamilton and another on Tuesday in Greenville.
“It gives us a chance firsthand to hear what the issues are affecting veterans in the state,” Mike McKinney, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, said Friday. “I’m probably not going out on a limb by saying that the claims backlog is probably the biggest issue.”
Boehner has sent multiple letters this year to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to blast his department’s claims backlog, which it has pledged to eliminate in 2015.
By then, the VA announced last year, it would be able to process claims within 125 days.
In the meantime, local veterans have been reaching out to Boehner’s office for help.
“Our office has been tackling this problem one case at a time,” said Brittany Bramell, Boehner’s spokeswoman. “In fact, right now we have more than 100 open cases specifically about claims that have not been answered.”
The latest letter sent in July to Shinseki by Boehner and GOP lawmakers from Ohio requested monthly accountability reports on VA’s progress.
In Ohio — home to nearly 900,000 veterans, including more than 300,000 Vietnam-era vets — the Department of Veterans Services has recently put an emphasis on getting county service offices to file what are known as fully developed claims on behalf of veterans in the state, McKinney said.
A fully developed claim is one with documentation and records already attached.
“The best way to alleviate the backlog on the front end is by submitting fully developed claims,” McKinney said.
The last three months of the state’s fiscal year — April, May and June — saw a 28.5 percent increase in fully developed claims sent by county service offices in Ohio, McKinney said.
A big factor in that is Ohio’s innovative use of the Defense Personnel Records Information Retrieval System, or DPRIS, according to McKinney.
Ohio became the first state in the country this year to receive authorization to access the U.S. Department of Defense’s secure online database of military personnel records going back to the early 1990s, he said.
“This will pay off,” McKinney said.
“One thing led to another and we launched into this partnership,” he added.
The state is working to get access for all of Ohio’s veterans service offices, he said.
While it’s too early to tell whether the fully developed claims get through the VA faster, McKinney said, they theoretically should.
“They can look at the documentation and they can make a decision much more rapidly,” he said.