VA Says Bush's New Iraq Plan Won't Add To Claims Backlog

January 20th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: VA Says Bush's New Iraq Plan Won't Add To Claims Backlog

Houston Chronicle
January 20, 2007
In Houston to open surgical suite, secretary predicts 'minimal impact' with deployment
By Rosanna Ruiz, Houston Chronicle
President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq is not expected to increase the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' ongoing backlog of processing benefit claims, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said Friday during a visit to Houston.
The VA reports that more than 600,000 veterans, including 24,655 in Houston, are waiting to have their medical claims processed. Nicholson said the department is working on that.
"The backlog is still longer than we want it to be, and we're taking a series of steps to shorten it," he said.
Nicholson said the VA has seen "a real sharp increase" in the number of claims and the number of injuries per claimant, due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While he was here, Nicholson helped open a new surgical operating room at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The $1.5 million "hybrid surgical suite" allows physicians to perform open-heart surgeries, endovascular and radiological procedures simultaneously. The department says the new facility promises to reduce the risk of infection, reduce blood loss and shorten hospital stays.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Nicholson said the deployment of more than 21,000 troops, which Bush announced last week, would have a "minimal impact" on the VA.
Veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan account for only about 3 percent of its total patient load, Nicholson added.
"We see over a million patients a week in our system. If you add 20,000 soldiers we would only see a percent of those," he said. "It wouldn't have a material impact."
David Autry, of Disabled American Veterans, said the size of the backlog indicates the VA's struggles continue unabated. He cited insufficient funds and poorly trained staff as chief reasons for the backlog.
"The VA needs more resources to hire, train and hold people accountable for their job performance," Autry said.
"Yes, there are more claims being filed, but if the right people are not doing the right thing they're not going to clear the backlog."

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