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Wed December 11, 2013
Hagan Reiterates Request for Help With Winston-Salem VA Office
There has long been an enormous backlog of appeals filed by US military veterans at the Veterans Affairs Administration's regional office in Winston-Salem. But North Carolina US Senator Kay Hagan may have made some inroads in correcting that situation.
Hagan announced Tuesday that she had received a response from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to her request to do something about the backlog of appeals at the Winston-Salem Regional office. In September, it numbered more than 11,000. Some veterans have been waiting for more than four years for a decision on their cases.
A report on the Winston-Salem VA office was released last year following an inspection by the office of the Veterans Affairs Administration Inspector General. The report stated, "...we observed an excessive number of claims folders stored on the top of, and around, filing cabinets... The inadequate storage created an unsafe workspace for (Veterans Affairs) employees and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building." In one office alone, the report said, 37,000 claims folders had been stored on top of filing cabinets.
Hagan's letter to Secretary Shinseki, which she sent in September, said in part, "While I understand that the VA has made progress in processing new disability claims in a timely manner, I am concerned that there may not be similar initiatives in place to address the backlog of appeals that seems to be growing larger by the day.
In his response letter, Shinseki told Senator Hagan, "I fully share your view that we must improve not only the claims process, but the appeals system as well. The appeals workload remains a complex challenge at the Winston-Salem RO and nationwide. Over the last year, the Winston-Salem RO has maintained its appeals inventory at a steady state, even as production of claims decisions increased overall."
Shinseki outlined several improvements he says the VA is undertaking to expedite the process. They include more streamlined and focused decision writing, a triage process for incoming appeals to maximize efficiency, increased use of video conferencing for hearings, focused training of newly-hired attorney staff, and targeted use of overtime to increase productivity.
Earlier this year, VA Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey visited the Winston-Salem VA office after Hagan asked Shinseki send personnel to address the problems.