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Franken pushes bill to help break VA claims backlog

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U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday that the current backlog in processing claims for veterans in Minnesota and across the country is unacceptable, and he urged passage of his legislation to speed up the process. The current national average wait time for a veteran's benefit claim to be processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is nearly 300 days.

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In his testimony Wednesday, Sen. Franken pressed the committee to support his Quicker Benefits Delivery Act to give the VA the tools it needs to get benefits to veterans more quickly.

"The fundamental issue is that we need to make sure veterans are getting the benefits to which they are entitled as quickly as possible," Sen. Franken told the panel. "And that is what my legislation will do."

The measure was introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.).

Currently, nearly 600,000 veterans are in the VA benefits backlog. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the average wait time for veterans filing a claim for the first time at the St. Paul VA Regional Office in Minnesota is 180 days.

Sen. Franken's bill was written after engaging veterans and veterans groups at the local, state, and national level to determine where the current problem lies. The legislation aims to tackle the backlog by:

· Removing bureaucratic red tape by allowing veterans to see local doctors for their initial diagnosis and avoid long wait times at VA hospitals. This will conserve the VA's resources and enable quicker, more accurate rating decisions for veterans.

· Requiring VA to swiftly award interim benefits to disabled veterans based off of their initial diagnosis when the diagnosis clearly supports such awards. This will allow veterans to receive important benefits quicker, while the VA continues to review their claims.

· Authorizing VA to pay housing benefits under the GI Bill to student veterans in a more timely way.

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