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Agreement seeks end to VA backlog

WASHINGTON -- Top federal officials have reached an agreement to reduce a backlog of Veterans Affairs claims, according to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., joined by Johnson, chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, this week announced the initial results of a roundtable discussion with senior Obama administration officials to seek an end to the backlog that has troubled the Department of Veterans Affairs for years.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration agreed to work together to break barriers between the departments to end the gridlock, according to the senators.

Specifically, the participants agreed:

-Each agency will identify a single high level person whose sole focus is fixing problems, and who reports directly to the secretary or administrator.

-Secretaries Hagel and Shinseki agreed to meet every 60 days as the agencies progress toward ending the claims backlog.

-To a method of accountability to the chairwoman and to the committee, including a coordinated progress report to the committee every 60 days.

The roundtable was held five days before Memorial Day, and seeks to address the 839,000 pending claims, including 559,000 pending more than 125 days and 205,000 backlogged more than a year, that the VA is responsible for processing. This backlog exists despite years of attempts to improve processing times, the senators said, all of which have so far failed to break the logjam and provide better and more efficient claims processing for America's veterans.

"I believe that VA and all of the supporting agencies are committed to solving this problem," Sen. Johnson said in a written statement. "And I believe all of them would agree with me that the current situation is unacceptable."

Other roundtable participants were Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, and Internal Revenue Service Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Beth Tucker.