Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after submitting multiple programmatic requests for the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies bill in order to support our nation’s veterans:
“America's brave men and women in uniform are the nation's greatest assets. Accordingly, our veterans deserve the finest medical care our country can provide. I am committed to working on behalf of all of veterans so that they receive the benefits they earned. Reducing the massive backlog shackling the Board of Veterans Appeals should be the top priority this fiscal year. Accordingly, I spearheaded a bipartisan effort signed by 19 members to ensure Congress prioritizes expenditures and provides adequate resources for processing appeals within the VA. There is no reason our veterans should wait years to receive the care they earned.
“Additionally, it makes me sick to think that our nation’s heroes are being abandoned by the very people they risked their lives to protect. In February, the VA’s Inspector General revealed some troubling findings about the Veterans Crisis Line. Shockingly, veterans and service members utilizing this suicide-hotline were being forwarded to voicemail and not receiving an immediate response. There is no reason these heroes should not receive immediate assistance from a trained professionals when they are having a mental health crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts. My programmatic language request, supported by nearly three dozen members of Congress, utilizes the power of the purse to correct this malfeasance.”
The full text of Congressman’s programmatic request to provide the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) with the necessary resources to reduce the backlog of Veterans appeals can be found HERE.
The progress made by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce the number of initial claims pending exceeding more than 125 days is commendable. The staggering 600,000 backlogged cases in the spring of 2013 has been reduced dramatically, dipping under 80,000 by the end of 2015. However, as this sustained emphasis on reducing the initial-claims backlog has greatly improved the number of these cases processed, the number of claims decisions now being appealed across the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Board of Veterans Appeals has ballooned to over 400,000. The average wait time for these appeals has extended to nearly three years, with many cases stretching well beyond that.
Signers of the Gosar BVA letter include: Current Cosigners (19): Paul Gosar*, Raul Ruiz*, Earl "Buddy" Carter, Ted Deutch, Debbi Dingell, Elizabeth Etsy, Lois Frankel, John, Garamendi, Al Green, Alcee Hastings, Sheila Jackson Lee, Walter Jones, Jerry McNerney, Martha McSally, Chellie Pingree, Charles Rangel, Eric Swalwell, Mark Takano and Ted Yoho.
The full text of Congressman’s programmatic request to ensure immediate assistance on the Veterans Crisis Line can be found HERE.
In 2007, H.R. 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevent Act, required the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish and implement a fully inclusive program designed to diminish the incidence of suicide among veterans, specifically authorizing the development of a toll-free hotline staffed by trained professionals. The Veteran Crisis line was established in 2007 as a result. According to its website, “The Veteran Crisis Line has answered nearly 2 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis over 53,000 times.” Veterans Crisis Line staff has also responded to more than 44,000 texts and participated in more than 240,000 chats. This resource has proven to be an invaluable tool for protecting the well-being of our nation’s heroes.
On February 11, 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (IG) released Report No. 14-03540-123, an investigation into concerns raised about the Veterans Crisis Line. That report produced some troubling findings including “that some calls routed to crisis backup centers went into a voicemail system and that the Veterans Crisis Line and backup center staff did not always offer immediate assistance to callers…These incidents involved responders allegedly ending calls without providing assistance, inappropriately transferring calls, and telling callers to contact another organization…In addition, [the IG] found that callers could be placed on hold in a backup center queue or be passed through several backup centers for an unknown period of time, which could account for the perception that the calls were not answered.”
The Veterans Crisis Line website clearly states, “When you call the Veterans Crisis Line, use the online chat, or send a text message, you will receive direct, immediate support from a trained VA responder.” Inclusion of the language contained in this programmatic request will ensure that promise is honored.
Signers of the Gosar Veterans Crisis Line letter include (32): Paul Gosar*, Dina Titus*, Brian Babin, Lois Capps, Matt Cartwright, David Cicilline, Curt Clawson, Peter DeFazio, John Delaney, Mark DeSauliner, Ted Deutch, Debbie Dingell, Keith Ellison, Chris Gibson, Mike Honda, Walter Jones, Robin Kelly, Ron Kind, Doug Lamborn, Leonard Lance, Sheila Jackson Lee, Tom Marino, Thomas Massie, Pete Olson, Beto O’Rourke, Chellie Pingree, Mark Pocan, Loretta Sanchez, Niki Tsongas, Marc Veasey, Frederica Wilson and Lee Zeldin.