Agency helped Texas veterans file 16,771 claims
In 2009, Gov. Rick Perry vowed to cut a backlog of 38,000 pending benefit claims by Texas veterans, according to a news article in the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Perry had authorized the Texas Veterans Commission, a state veterans' advocacy agency, to develop claims processing teams drawing in a dozen counselors who would split time between the Veterans Affairs regional processing centers in Waco and Houston, according to the newspaper.
"Entirely too many of our veterans waiting on a response from the VA hear, 'Just keep waiting,' " Perry was quoted as saying.
Duncan McGhee, a spokesman for the Veterans Commission, told us by email that as of June 13, the teams had pulled together 16,771 claims and presented them to the Department of Veterans Affairs "for final decision or award action," hence reducing the backlog.
But the backlog has increased overall for a complicated reason.
Dallas-based VA spokeswoman Jessica Jacobsen first advised that the agency defines a backlogged claim as one pending more than 125 days.
In September 2009, she said by email, there were nearly 38,000 pending claims in Texas, 14,269 of them backlogged. This June, she said, 70,098 claims were pending in Texas, 45,530 of them backlogged. That is, Texas claims are up 84 percent since 2009, and claims defined as backlogged by the VA have more than tripled.
Jacobsen indicated, though, that the increase is no fault of state government. She said the federal agency's October 2009 decision to widen "presumptive” conditions tied to Agent Orange — adding Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and B cell leukemias — for veterans who served in Vietnam resulted in Agent Orange claims increasing nationally by about 210,000.
In an interview, McGhee said the state's temporary teams should still be credited with hastening thousands of claims that previously had languished. "Considering we are still fighting a war, (covered) conditions from previous wars are being expanded and it's actually a VA or federal problem, there is very little we can do,” McGhee said.
Point taken. Significantly too, Perry never aired a goal of cutting claims by a certain number or percentage, saying only that the teams would reduce backlogged claims.
This is not a perfect picture. But it strikes us as a Promise Kept.