A 10-point plan addressing the Veterans Affairs claims backlog was unveiled on June 18 by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The plan is to be included in the Fiscal 2014 Military Construction, VA, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which aims to give the VA additional resources to address the backlog and to strengthen training and accountability, states the Mikulski’s June 19 release. “When our veterans return from war, they shouldn’t have to face a quagmire of bureaucracy in getting their claims processed,” Mikulski said. “The solution to this problem must come right from the top. …The Appropriations Committee will keep fighting the red tape across all the agencies responsible for our veterans because our wounded warriors can’t wait.” The plan includes: $20 million above the budget request to upgrade computer hardware in VA regional offices; more training of claims processors; monthly reports by the VA on performance measures to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations; and an additional $12.9 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals to hire additional personnel to help the appeals process. Mikulski said the VA has a backlog of 816,839 pending claims as of June 10, of which 66 percent have been pending for more than four months.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.