WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., spoke out Wednesday against legislation that would give veterans new benefits at a cost of $21 billion over the next decade.
Boozman cautioned against the Democrat-led effort, saying that it could overburden the Department of Veterans Affairs at a time when it is already struggling to meet current demands.
“Increasing funding doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have better outcomes,” Boozman said.
Although funding for VA has increased in recent years, the Little Rock Veterans Affairs office – like others around the country – has a backlog of claims yet to be resolved. More than half of the 7,663 pending claims were filed more than 125 days ago, he said.
In some cases, it’s taking years to resolve disputes – one Fort Smith veteran appealed a VA claim in 2009 that was settled in 2013. The veteran, however, has yet to see his upgraded benefits, he said.
Paul Cupp, a 66-year-old Navy veteran, said he has spent years seeking VA disability benefits for hearing loss he claimed occurred while serving on a ship during two-years of duty in the Vietnam War. While that claim was denied, he was told last year that he would receive benefits for type 2 diabetes but has yet to receive any payment.
Cupp, a former truck driver, has lost both his legs to diabetes and no longer is able to work.
“Some of my colleagues think the best way to tackle this is by expanding programs and increasing the responsibility of the VA,” Boozman said on the Senate floor. “The problem is we are putting more people onto a system that is clearly overwhelmed.”
Rather than a massive expansion, Boozman said lawmakers should advance a measured approach that will make sure veterans receive the attention they deserve.
Debate on the legislation is expected to continue this week.
The bill would extend VA health benefits to all uninsured veterans. Currently the service is open to those with service-connected disabilities and those with very low income. It would also expand health services to include dental care. The VA would be authorized to enter into leases with medical facilities in 18 states.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the legislation would improve VA health care and dental care, expand educational opportunities, help the VA address its claims backlog and help veterans find jobs.
“In my view, this is the most comprehensive piece of veterans’ legislation to be offered in decades and addresses many of the challenges facing service members, veterans and their families,” he said.
The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars are among the organizations backing the bill.