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Intense Media Spotlight Remains on Crisis at Baltimore VBA

VA Secretary and Congress Promise Reforms

Bergmann & Moore was honored to work with the Baltimore Sun to expose the painfully long delays and frequent mistakes processing Veterans’ disability compensation claims at the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) regional office (RO) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Retired Brigadier General Alison Hickey became VA Undersecretary of Benefits in 2011.

Retired USAF Brigadier General Alison Hickey became VA Undersecretary of Benefits in 2011. As a result of the claims and error crisis at VA, her leadership of the agency has come under fire.

The intense media spotlight has put the leadership of Allison Hickey, VBA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, under great scrutiny and increased the pressure on her to improve VBA’s dismal performance and downward spiral.

In the first Baltimore Sun article, which showed that the Baltimore RO is the slowest in the country in processing disability claims for servicemen and servicewomen, Joseph Moore, a partner at Bergmann & Moore, said the Department of Veterans Affairs’ delays and mistakes processing claims “inflicts serious harm on our wounded veterans who need VA benefits to feed and house their families.”  Delays are especially harmful for our Veterans who war unemployable or who have posttraumatic stress disorder.

That article resulted in the approval of a disability claim for Iraq War combat veteran Robert Fearing, a Bronze Star recipient.

But is fixing just one veteran’s claim enough? Apparently not. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported reinforcements are moving in to try to fix the broken Baltimore RO.  According to the Post, two 17-member teams of employees from other regional offices will work in Baltimore through the end of next month to reduce the backlog, which stood at 19,935 as of Feb. 9.

Joseph Moore, a partner at Bergmann & Moore, said the Department of Veterans Affairs’ delays and mistakes processing claims “inflicts serious harm on our wounded veterans who need VA benefits to feed and house their families.

Also this week, the Baltimore Sun reported that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Maryland’s U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski promised the Baltimore RO will receive more employee training, an influx of senior staff and a new digital processing system ahead of schedule.

As the Sun reported, Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that controls funding for VA, said in a press conference this week that she wants to spend $2.1 billion in the coming federal fiscal year on processing disability claims, which is more than twice the amount provided in 2007.

“I can assure you, I am going to prod the process,” she said. “I am going to crack my budgetary whip. I don’t have a magic wand, but I do have a gavel and I intend to use it.”

The intense press pack spotlight is now clearly focused on the VBA’s chronic failures. The Bay Citizen’s Aaron Glantz was featured Tuesday on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show describing how 53 veterans die every day while VBA drags its feet.

As Maddow noted, VBA has paperwork and bureaucracy problems. Veterans call it “delay, deny, and wait until I die,” she said in a lengthy and powerful segment.

Bergmann & Moore thanks Yvonne Wenger at the Baltimore Sun, Aaron Glantz at the Bay Citizen, and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, for shining a powerful and bright spotlight on VBA.  But with all this exposure, will VBA improve, so veterans no longer have to face chronic claim delays and errors?  Only time will tell.  Rumors continue swirling that VBA’s Baltimore office may follow the examples of Oakland and Los Angeles, where VBA temporarily shut the office in order to provide urgently needed training and new leadership.

VBA’s goal should and must be very simple: accurate and timely processing of claims so no Veteran ever dies waiting on VBA.

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