We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Unfortunately, when it comes to the ridiculous amount of time veterans must wait for their claims to be processed, the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed them in Western Pennsylvania and around the nation.
Over 865,000 veterans around the nation are waiting to receive disability benefits from the VA. On average, they must wait over 300 days for first-time claims processing, and in Pittsburgh the average is 625 days.
Local veterans have recently seen even more egregious failures of the VA. An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, caused by Pittsburgh VA's systemic failure to follow its own safety protocols and a communications breakdown, led to five deaths.
Despite these problems, the VA gave its senior executives bonuses totaling $2.3 million in 2012. Awarding bonuses to executives of an organization with such an abysmal performance record is ridiculous. In the private sector, this level of performance would be met with a pink slip, not a bonus check.
Therefore, I offered an amendment that prohibits any performance bonuses to senior VA executives in the next fiscal year. The amendment was included in the final bill that passed the House in a 421-4 vote.
To help the VA address the backlog, the bill includes $291 million for system improvements and funds to hire an additional 94 processors. The bill also includes strict reporting requirements to track performance of each regional office.
VA executives need to take responsibility, fix these problems and do their jobs.
The writer represents Pennsylvania's 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.