Senators Hassan, Tillis Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Veterans by Addressing VA Backlog
Bipartisan Bill Builds on Senator Hassan’s Efforts to Address Delays in Veterans’ Records & Benefits Information
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), both members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced a bipartisan bill to improve oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and reduce the backlog of requests from veterans for medical and other VA military records. A companion bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this month.
Veterans will often request access to their military and VA records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to gain more information on a claim from the VA or receive necessary medical documents, but right now, many veterans do not receive a response to their request within the 20 days that FOIA outlines. Compliance with FOIA requests also impacts the work our local and national Veterans Service Organizations do to support our veterans.
The VA FOIA Reform Act of 2021 would direct the VA to establish and carry out a plan to meet requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), conduct an analysis of the root causes of the backlog, and identify technology needs and procedural changes that could speed up the fulfillment of requests. The bill also directs the Department to request that the National Archives and Records Administration conduct a review of VA’s FOIA process and assess their compliance. Finally, the VA must report its plan and findings to Congress.
“We have seen a systemic failure from the VA to provide veterans timely access to their own personal records. It is a disservice to our veterans and their families. Many veterans file requests for important documents, such as their military records or claim files, and are left waiting for far too long,” said Senator Hassan. “This bipartisan bill will address the backlog by requiring that the VA establish a plan to address veterans’ requests in a more timely manner. Passage of this bill will ensure that we are increasing accountability at the VA and keeping our promise to veterans.”
“Veterans who are simply requesting access to their personal medical or military records deserve a quick response to their request,” said Senator Tillis. “Today, veterans are facing unacceptable wait times to receive the information they need, largely due to inefficiencies at the VA that have resulted in a growing backlog. We have to take care of those who served our country, and this commonsense legislation will require VA to take the steps necessary to comply with federal law while also bringing transparency to this process. I am proud to work with Senator Hasson so that the VA can quickly take care of their requests and provide this information to our veterans in a more timely manner.”
This bill builds on Senator Hassan’s efforts to address delays in veterans’ records and benefits. Last year, Senator Hassan called on the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), which maintains the personnel, health, and medical records of millions of veterans, to safely speed up its processing of veterans’ records after it closed down in March due to the pandemic. The NPRC responded that it needed more resources in order to tackle the growing backlog of cases. As a result, the COVID-19 relief and government funding package that Senator Hassan helped negotiate and pass into law included $50 million to the National Archives and Records Administration, which houses the NPRC. In February, Senator Hassan then urged the NPRC to immediately use the $50 million included in the December COVID-19 relief and government funding package to address its backlog of veterans’ record requests. This funding is helping address the backlog in completing veterans’ requests for their military service records.
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