Hagan presses VA, Defense to improve communication and speed claims handling

From staff reportsSeptember 20, 2013 

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U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan

DAVIE HINSHAW — dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

Sen. Kay Hagan continues to pressure the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to speed up claims processing at its offices in Winston-Salem and elsewhere.

Hagan said this week she has sent letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking them to report on the progress in streamlining the transfer of veterans’ medical records from the Department of Defense, which has them while troops are in service, to the VA, which gets the records when troops who leave service ask for care.

The VA has been struggling with a backlog of disability claims that accumulated when older vets began making new claims at the same time veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started coming home and seeking help.

Hagan, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said up to 70 percent of the time it takes to process a veteran’s disability claim is spent waiting on the Defense Department to transfer medical records to the VA. Because the two use different data systems, records can’t be shared electronically and must be delivered to the VA on paper.

“Better communication between these two departments is a commonsense solution that would go a long way toward ensuring we live up to our commitment to America’s veterans and their families,” Hagan said.

In 2004, Congress created a committee that is supposed to establish a system for the transfer of medical records by 2015.

In the meantime, veterans are encouraged to set up eBenefits accounts with the VA at www.ebenefits.va.gov. The VA will digitize the records of veterans who enroll in eBenefits, and veterans can then view and add to their records online and apply for benefits there.

North Carolina has more than 773,000 veterans, nearly all of whom have to go through the Winston-Salem Regional Office of the VA to make benefits claims.

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