To the Times:
Since 1997, I have been helping Pennsylvania veterans and their dependents prove their VA claims as a pro bono lawyer. There are 980,000 Pennsylvania veterans — 202,000 of these living vets are veterans of the First Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. I am concerned that Congress is more interested in talking about “support the troops” than it is in providing meaningful assistance to our needy veterans.
The VA is currently swamped with more than 900,000 claims from vets and dependents seeking disability compensation and VA medical services. If Congress does not do something to save the VA, it will surely fail to meet the needs of our vets and their families. We need action.
A few months ago, U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., met with VA directors in Delaware County and asked them what it would take to process claims faster, after saying on radio that the VA backlog is “just not acceptable.” He promised to get the “resources you need at the VA, whether it’s more training or more people or new technology.” Recently, the Times headlined an article, “Toomey pledges support for vets during festivities in Media.”
But Sen. Toomey’s voting record on VA matters is discouraging.
When the senator was still a congressman, he voted against the annual VA appropriations bill five out of six times. Right after he voted against funding the VA for 2004, Congressman Toomey voted against adding an extra $1.8 billion to VA health care funding. He thought the VA was getting too much money.
When Toomey left Congress in January 2005, the VA unprocessed claims backlog was 485,000 due to lack of resources.
By 2013, the VA backlog was 900,000. Congressman Toomey’s voting record does not support his claim to be a friend to Pennsylvania veterans and their dependents
Sen. Toomey was elected in 2010 and in 2011 he took his seat as Pennsylvania’s junior senator. Sen. Toomey teams up with our other senator, Bob Casey, D-Pa.,for bipartisan resolutions offering words of support to honor returning soldiers.
But when it comes to hard cash, Toomey continues to vote against veterans’ best interests. Just as he did in Congress, Toomey voted against important bills designed to help veterans and dependents. For example, in the Senate he voted against every appropriations bill for the VA. The unemployment rate for our youngest returning veterans averages 20 percent and Sen. Toomey voted against the Veterans Jobs Corps Act that would have provided funding to help veterans find work in their communities.
Sen. Toomey also voted for the sequester. That budget-slashing measure meant that caretakers for wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center were furloughed. Sequestration also affected training programs for returning veterans as well as state grants for veterans’ job programs. Sen. Toomey said the spending cuts wouldn’t be that bad. He said the cuts would put us on a sustainable path. Our Pennsylvania veterans and dependents need advocates in Washington who will be leaders in the fight to provide adequate benefits to disabled vets and their families.
One would think that the backlog of 900,000 unprocessed VA claims would get action from our elected leaders. Instead, we are drowning in an ocean of words deploring the VA disaster in the making, with no one proposing even the simplest solution to the processing backlog: a bill to increase the VA’s appropriations for hiring rating specialists and clerical help to move these unprocessed claims along.
It’s time for the House and Senate to take action, to vote the needed funds to make the VA work for our wounded warriors. Support our troops, but also support them when they come back as veterans.
THOMAS J. REED
New Castle, DE