ATLANTA — U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is demanding answers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over what he described as “extensive and unacceptable wait times” for medical benefit claims for Georgia’s service members.
Ossoff’s letter to the VA said the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), which decides on benefits claim decisions and appeals, is making some Georgia veterans wait years to get a decision on how to proceed with health care for the patients they oversee.
The senator said the problems don’t end with delayed decisions.
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“Not only are Georgia veterans reporting years-long wait times to receive a decision on their benefits claim decision appeals, but they also describe a lack of clear and consistent communication about estimated wait times and their claim’s place on the Board’s decision docket,” Ossoff’s letter said.
He continued, noting that he is just as aware of the VA’s “significant challenges” to address problems with administering care for the nation’s veterans as the department is, citing delays in processing claims due to personnel shortages.
However, he sent them a series of questions focused on the delayed process for decisions on claim appeals, and information about how to speed up the process going forward.
In particular, one question sent to the VA by Ossoff asks what they’re doing to fill vacant veteran service positions and other personnel shortfalls, which may be adding to the wait times experienced by veterans appealing to the BVA.
It’s not the Georgia senator’s first inquiry into conditions impacting America’s veterans’ medical needs.
In July 2022, Ossoff responded to a Channel 2 Investigates story by Channel 2′s Investigative Reporter Justin Gray, which found wait times for Atlanta and Georgia veterans were longer than anywhere else in the VA system.
Months later, in October 2022, the U.S. Sec. of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough spoke with Gray about the VA’s medical needs in Atlanta.
Through a partnership with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News also reported on stacks of mail allowed to pile up in a basement at the Atlanta V.A. for nearly a year. The V.A. Inspector General later confirmed that more than half the 17,000 pieces of mail were patient medical documents.
Following those reports, Ossoff confirmed to Gray that he was in regular contact with the VA to solve these issues, but further issues at the Atlanta VA Medical Center prompted response from Ossoff and his staff.
In July, Channel 2 Action News reported the Atlanta VA Medical Center had earned a two out of five rating for quality, with the rating coming from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Two days after the report, Ossoff pressed for action while in Washington, specifically citing reporting by Channel 2 Action News. In an interview with Gray, Ossoff said he would continue pushing on VA leadership to reduce wait times at VMC Atlanta and demanded improvements at the hospital.
Issues with receiving care in a timely fashion from the VA could have a big impact on Georgia’s veterans.
As previously reported, the most recent, and granular, data from the U.S. Department of Defense on Georgians employed by the military showed that almost 64,000 active duty personnel worked in the state as of September 2022. The Peach State is also ranked fifth in the nation when it comes to total DOD military, civilian, reserve, and national guard employment across the United States.
Focusing on veterans specifically, the VA reported Georgia had more than 690,000 veterans.
In a statement posted to Ossoff’s Senate website, he announced the official launch of the inquiry into the excessive delays at the VA’s BVA, with the letter sent to the VA secretary to serve as the start of the effort.
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