House members press VA to clear claims backlog in Nevada


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House members press VA to clear claims backlog in Nevada

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Nov 7, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Members of Congress are putting pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the backlog of benefits claims for Nevada veterans.

While the backlog is a nationwide problem, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, called the Reno regional office one of the most under performing offices in the VA system. The Reno facility handles claims for all of Nevada and four counties in California.

The congresswoman said Reno has 5,813 pending claims, of which about 3,600 are more than 125 days old. Some veterans are waiting up to a year, if not longer, for a response, she said.

Titus revealed the numbers during a Congressional field hearing held at Las Vegas City Hall on Thursday afternoon with Rep. Jon Runyan, R-New Jersey. Both are members of the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

Titus said Reno has sent roughly 6,000 Nevada claims to processing facilities in other states because they couldn't keep up.

"Our goal is by 2015, there will be no case pending over 125 days and accuracy will be 98-percent," said Willie Clark, western area director for the Veterans Benefits Administration. "We feel we can do that and certainly feel we can do that in Reno."

Over the last few months, veterans from across Southern Nevada have turned to Action News for answers about the backlog problem. 

Runyan told managers of the Reno office that they should ask for help if they need additional resources.

Edward Russell, director of the Reno office, said the facility is properly staffed but experienced high turnover during the 2012 fiscal year. The office has since changed recruiting and training processes. Reno is also in the process of converting paper records to digital.

"It's more of a screening process of making sure that people are - candidates applying for the job are right for the job," Russell said.

Clark said he hopes the Reno office will start making its goals within 90 to 120 days. He said the backlog in Nevada is improving and vowed to tackle the problem.

Action News asked Rep. Titus if she was satisfied with the answers she received at the hearing.

"I think we made the point that we're watching and we want to be sure that improvements are being made in the Reno office to serve our Southern Nevada residents and our veterans, who worked so hard and gave so much and deserve these benefits," Titus said.

Titus also expressed concern that the current backlog in claims processing could lead to a backlog in the appeals process, though she said that has not happened as of yet.