Nicollet County Veterans Service Officer Charlie Dempewolf said the federal VA office has performed shifts for years, but prior shifts were only several hundred cases. He said the shift of thousands of cases this year has seriously slowed the system and upset the veterans that he serves.
"(The shifts) are not popular with service organizations, veteran organizations and veterans," Dempewolf said.
Minnesota lawmakers U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Al Franken introduced companion bills dealing with the issue in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate at the start of the year. The bills seek to speed up veteran access to benefits by allowing veterans to conduct their disability medical examinations with their local doctors, instead of waiting for availability at veteran hospitals. The bills would also require awarding of interim benefits to veterans while their claims are being processed.
Neither bill has been brought up for a vote, but sources have indicated that the Senate bill may be debated in the near future.
“Plain and simple, the VA benefits backlog is unacceptable. That is why I introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Franken to help the VA work towards ending the backlog and getting our veterans the benefits they deserve quicker. While there is no easy solution to fix this problem, this bipartisan bill will go a long ways in ensuring our veterans get the care they have earned quicker," said Walz in a statement.
Local veteran county officials said they are hopeful that processing times will return to normal next year after the shifted claims are handled.