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'I'm sorry on behalf of the federal government' | NC congressman, others question VA about growing claims backlog

Members of Congress questioned the Department of Veterans Affairs about its growing backlog of appeals during an oversight hearing this week.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Republican Congressman Greg Murphy is apologizing for the Department of Veterans Affairs' failure to quickly deliver decisions about disability benefits and is pledging to do his part to come up with a solution.

"For those who have not been treated well, I apologize," Murphy, who represents North Carolina's third congressional district, said. "Please know, I can only talk for myself, we will be working as hard as possible to get you the benefits that you deserve and the care that you need in a time that is satisfactory."

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A WCNC Charlotte investigation previously uncovered a backlog of 200,000 Veteran Affairs (VA) appeals, leaving veterans waiting years for an answer about monthly benefit payments.

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Rep. Murphy represents eastern North Carolina, which is home to Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Marine Corps Air Station New River. In addition to active duty military personnel, he said his district is home to nearly 90,000 veterans.

"We need to change those inefficiencies in the VA system," Murphy, who is also a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said. "That is an area that they don't get any sympathy from me as far as getting it right for our veterans."

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The committee held its first oversight hearing of the year Tuesday. During that hearing, members questioned VA leadership about the growing claims and appeals backlogs, among other topics.

"We take our mission very seriously," VA Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Michael Frueh told the committee. "We don't want veterans to wait to access the benefits they've earned."

VA administrators assured committee members the agency is working to improve its processes and has made a sizable dent in the oldest appeals.

During a joint House and Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing Wednesday, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, alluded to the growing backlog, which he blames, in part, on the passage of the PACT Act, which he opposed.

"We're seeing an increase in wait lists [and] wait times. We're seeing hundreds of positions that were not filled before we made a new promise and now we got to make sure that we do everything we can to support the VA," Tillis said during the hearing.

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Both committees are expected to revisit the problem throughout the next year.

"We need to take it from A-to-Z," Murphy said. "We need to look literally at the process and decouple it, look at literally what goes on and where the log jams are."

Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California's 39th district, said COVID-19 exacerbated the problem.

"BVA [the Board of Veterans Appeals] was not immune to pandemic-related pressures, which caused a backlog of pending cases," Rep. Takano said in a statement to WCNC Charlotte. "This backlog also stands to be exacerbated by the influx of new PACT Act-related claims. We are confident though that BVA has a plan in place to address the growing number of cases, and we have already seen a robust hiring effort to help speed up decisions and reduce lag times. However, veterans deserve high-quality, well-trained, and experienced adjudicators, and it is important that BVA not sacrifice accuracy for expediency as it addresses claims backlogs."

Both Rep. Murphy and Sen. Tillis encouraged veterans to reach out their offices to share their concerns.

WCNC Charlotte previously held a virtual town hall to help veterans dealing with the backlog of appeals:

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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