BARR: Despite Robust VA Budgets, Many Vets Still Have Difficulty Obtaining Disability Assistance They’re Entitled To

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The budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is large and growing every year. The Biden Administration has asked Congress to appropriate $369.3 billion for the VA in 2025 – a nearly 10% increase over 2024. Roughly half of the VA’s spending goes toward providing disability benefits to compensate veterans for injuries or health conditions resulting from their service. 

Yet, with all that money being allocated to support our nation’s disabled veterans, many still struggle to obtain what they are owed under the law. This makes it even more difficult to understand why some Members of Congress have proposed legislation that actually would make it harder for veterans to get the help they need.  

It is hardly a secret that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has for years been plagued with problems – everything from computer systems that just don’t seem to work, to difficulties in setting appointment scheduling and lengthy wait times for many veterans once they do secure medical visits. The VBA currently has a backlog of more than 300,000 disability claims that have been pending for more than 125 days.  

In addition to long waits to receive decisions on their claim, many veterans are also being assigned inaccurate disability ratings, often resulting in lower benefits than deserved. An NBC News story from fall 2023 highlighted a lack of training, understaffing and low morale at the VBA as contributing factors leading to errors in decisions. As one VA employee put it in that account, “You end up developing an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. When you stop caring, you stop processing claims, you miss stuff.”

Problems like these are causing large numbers of VA benefit decisions to be appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. During a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing in November, lawmakers were told that some 72,000 veteran claims were then pending before the Appeals Board, with many being repeat appeals for the simple reason that higher courts “determined the board’s findings were inadequate or incomplete.”

Adding to these problems has been the VA’s failure to successfully upgrade and manage its own technology. For example, Military Times reported in 2023 that 32,000 veteran disability claims were somehow lost in the VA’s computer systems for months if not years due to “technical glitches.” These technical failures and recurrent human errors have led to pervasive dissatisfaction with the VA’s performance. 

Veteran Service Organizations, or “VSOs,” provide veterans with much-needed assistance in navigating the troubled VA, including helping veterans to file their claims. But these VSOs are too few in number and lack sufficient resources to fully address the myriad problems veterans face in confronting the VA bureaucracy. 

Private companies, including many run by veterans and former VA personnel, have stepped in to help fill the vacuum, guiding veterans through the VA’s process for a fee, which many veterans willingly pay. However, some Members of Congress, led by Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Democratic New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas, are pushing a bill, the “GUARD VA Benefits Act,” that would make it illegal for veterans to hire such companies

Limiting the choices and options for veterans to fight the bureaucracy and obtain benefits lawfully and morally due them is unhelpful and counterproductive. As Don Loren, a former Assistant Secretary at the VA, aptly noted in a recent column, such privatized options are readily available for American taxpayers to get help with their taxes, and Congress should not be limiting similar claims assistance for our country’s veterans.  

The obvious answer is for Congress to embrace a competing piece of legislation introduced in 2023 by a former Marine Corps Lt. General, Republican Michigan Rep. Jack Bergman, and Democratic California Rep. Lou Correa. Their bill, the “PLUS for Veterans Act,” would allow veterans to continue using private companies, but require those companies to become accredited with the VA, thereby protecting veterans from overcharges and misleading sales tactics, which some companies have been accused of using.

It is fair to say that the VA’s disability benefits claims process is broken, but until it is fixed, the least our government can do is ensure veterans have as many options as possible to secure the benefits they are owed — benefits Congress intended for them to receive.    

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, where he was a member of the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. He was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President in 2008. Previously, he served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.