NORFOLK-Virginia Senator Mark Warner says there needs to be 'dramatic improvement' in how the Department of Veterans Affairs processes medical benefits claims for veterans.

Warner says it is 'inexcusable' that there are currently more than 570,000 claims from veterans that are officially classified by the V.A. as 'backlogged.' That means the cases are more than 125 days without any action having been taken. Beyond that, nearly 250,000 veterans have been waiting more than one year for their claims to be acted upon.

'I think if we don't see a dramatic change this year, congress' patience has worn out and we'll expect to see changes at the V.A.,' Warner said in an interview Monday with 13News.

When Warner was asked if that means Veterans Affairs Department Secretary Eric Shinseki would have to go, Warner said, 'I'm saying, if we don't see changes this year, we're going to look top to bottom about bringing in management that can get the job done.'

Last Friday, the V.A. announced its plans to process the nearly quarter of a million claims that are one year or older within the next six months. The plan calls for regional offices of its Veterans Benefits Administration to issue so-called 'provisional rulings' on all claims that are one year or older, provided a minimum level of evidence has been submitted to support those claims.

If claims are given provisional approval, veterans will start receiving benefits immediately.
In addition, Shinseki pledged to eliminate all claims backlogs by 2015, as the department transitions from paper to electronic records-keeping.

Warner seemed skeptical. 'The system is too complicated, it takes too long, and veterans should not have to wait a year to get the claims adjudicated,' he said.

Also skeptical is Vietnam War Army veteran Dick Amick of Chesapeake, who fought the V.A. for years to get a 40 percent disability rating for his Agent Orange-related diabetes. 'We all felt the longer they drug it out, the less they'd have to pay us. Hopefully, some of us would die and they wouldn't have to pay us anything,' he said.

North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is also taking a wait-and-see approach. In a release, she said 'I welcome any action by the V.A. to reduce the unacceptable backlog of claims that have prevented our brave men and women from accessing the benefits they've earned. While this initiative marks a step in the right direction for the V.A., more must be done to reduce the wait times veterans face.'

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