Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, says it is “not acceptable” that the VA has nearly 400,000 rating claims awaiting processing and that it takes 175 days to process a claim for benefits. “Veterans deserve a more timely response,” Akaka asserted. At the March 7 hearing, Daniel Bertoni of the Government Accountability Office testified that the VA “continues to experience significant service delivery challenges” and actually has “lost ground” since 2003 in its attempt to reduce its backlog of claims. Bertoni did acknowledge that the increase is due partly to a rise in claims, principally from veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Akaka noted that his committee is recommending additional money—$40 million for benefit field offices and $3.7 million to hire new staff—above that requested by the Bush Administration. However, Akaka also pointed out that it takes about two years “before a new hire fully contributes to the bottom line.”
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.