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Kind questions new claims strategy for veterans

EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin (WQOW) - A Wisconsin lawmaker says he's disturbed by what he's learning about the claims process for veterans.

There's a backlog of claims in other states.  It can take more than a year for some veterans to go through the appeals process to receive the benefits they've earned.  Due to that backlog, the federal government is now having many out-of-state claims processed in Wisconsin.

As of Monday, the Milwaukee VA regional office had more than 4,800 claims to process under a one-year initiative through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Most of those claims are from offices in Houston or Los Angeles.  About 2,000 claims are at VA medical centers awaiting medical opinions.

Congressman Ron Kind is wondering if the new strategy will affect the wait time for Wisconsin veterans.  He sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.  (The letter is posted below.)

WQOW News 18 contacted the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to see what the state knows about the situation.  The state office provided information and the following statement:

"The USDVA did not formally notify veterans of this situation.  However, through county offices, the WDVA Claims Office and other Veteran Service Organizations, the word is out that at the direction of the federal VA, the priority is the claims that are older than one year.  We are working closely with these partners to help ensure that the claims process remains as positive as possible for Wisconsin veterans.  Wisconsin veterans should and can still submit claims and we are processing them in the same timely manner we've always processed them.  Also, we are expediting claims for those Wisconsin veterans who can document financial hardship, homelessness, and terminal illness."

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Letter from Congressman Kind to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

As you know, it is imperative that veterans receive the benefits they've earned.  While I commend the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on their commitment to decreasing the claims backlog by the end of the year, I am concerned that Wisconsin veterans will be adversely impacted by a recently announced plan to send out-of-state cases to our state.

It is my understanding that part of the Department's strategy to process claims involves shifting responsibility to states that have been able to process their claims at a faster rate.  Consequently, Wisconsin's Milwaukee VA office is now responsible for processing claims from Texas and California.  I'm concerned that Wisconsin veterans will not be receiving the attention they deserve while Wisconsin resources are used to address backlogged cases from other states.  This is especially concerning because my understanding is that the Milwaukee office has been advised to place priority on cases from Texas and California.  Can you please provide estimates about how this new policy will affect the wait time for Wisconsin veterans?  If you have not made any such estimates, I respectfully request that such an estimate be performed by the Department.  Before the claims of Texas and California veterans are given priority over Wisconsin veterans at the Milwaukee VA office, we should know the impact on the brave men and women who served from Wisconsin.

I understand that the Department of Veterans Affairs is in a difficult position to meet the needs of all the brave men and women who have served in our Armed Forces.  However, Wisconsin veterans shouldn't be punished by being placed in the back of the line in order to address shortcomings elsewhere.  I would appreciate your attention to this matter and information you could provide on how this will directly affect wait times for Wisconsin veterans.

Sincerely,

Ron Kind

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