Each year, thousands of our servicemen and women return from protecting America. Their courage, loyalty, and sacrifice inspire us all. However, as veterans they often encounter difficulties receiving adequate benefits or quality health care, or transitioning back into the workplace. Queens has the largest population of veterans in New York City, and solving the problems faced by veterans and their families is one of my top priorities.
Congress has worked in the past to increase funding for veterans’ health care and benefits. From 2007 and 2010, Congress appropriated 60 percent more for these programs, the largest increase in history. Sadly, many of our wounded veterans are also some our youngest citizens, and require our unwavering support. That is why now, even in a time of fiscal uncertainty, I am dedicated to protecting the progress that has been made in funding the VA, and to ensure that the VA is capable of meeting the health needs of another generation of veterans. We must ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has the necessary funding to continue the programming for veterans and their families; especially in the areas of health, education, employment, and housing. Another key area of focus is workforce re-entry programs for veterans, such as the expansion of the Helmet to Hardhats program, which helps returning veterans transition to construction jobs.
The current number of backlogged claims in VA’s inventory is nearly 900,000, the majority of which exceed the department’s processing goal of 125 days. In Queens, the average wait time is 499 days, one of the slowest in the nation for benefit claims. To ensure that claims are processed in a timely manner so that veterans receive the benefits they need, I introduced the VA Regional Office Accountability Act, H.R. 1824. The legislation requires any Regional Office not meeting the 125-day goal to submit a report detailing why the office was unable to meet the goal, what resources are needed and what actions are planned to reach the goal. This would help Congress and the VA better understand the challenges individual Regional Offices face while also encouraging their leadership to meet performance expectations. I believe that this bill represents a step in the right direction to ensure that veterans receive the benefits they deserve.
I am proud to represent a district and a city that many veterans and their families call home. It is imperative that the many New York City institutions dedicated to serving veterans and their families have our wholehearted support. In Congress, I will continue to be a tireless fighter to ensure that our veterans in New York and across the country receive the best care possible.