The Veterans Administration isn't processing claims quickly enough, and the backlog is causing hardship to veterans, Rep. Bill Johnson said Thursday.
Johnson, R-Ohio, met with veterans at the Belmont County Veterans Service Office in Bellaire.
"One of the biggest problems we have is the VA claims process," he said. "One of the biggest numbers I've heard - and it changes on a day-to-day basis - is that 900,000 claims are backlogged. That's a big number.
"It's a shame insurance companies can process a claim for hundreds of thousands of customers in a week, and here we have the VA that thinks 120 days on the average to process a veteran's claim is acceptable. ... That's the average. Some are waiting closer to 250 days - that's the better part of a year, and that is unacceptable."
Better business technology programs and management at the Veterans Administration are needed, Johnson said.
"We need better oversight to get that backlog down so our veterans get the benefits they deserve," he continued.
Those attending told Johnson the issue hit close to home this week. They informed him a memorial service was held this week in that same room for a local veteran who died while waiting for a claim to be processed.
One of the veterans present added he has been waiting for more than two years for an appeal on his VA claim to be settled, and he had contacted Johnson's office in the past but had not heard back from staff.
Johnson took the man's name and told staff members present he wanted an update on the status of the man's case each week.
Johnson spent 26 years in the U.S. Air Force and is a member of the House Veterans Committee.
He also chairs the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He spoke of the needs of today's veterans.
"I feel very strongly that one of our priorities has to be taking care of America's heroes - men and women who every day put life and limb on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy," Johnson said. "Washington doesn't have all the good ideas. ... You folks have the good ideas. You can help me by giving me some good ideas to take back to Washington."
Johnson said among his top priorities is seeing that America's veterans have jobs after they leave the military.
"One of my top priorities is ensuring that our troops - when they come back from the war - that they are able to get back into the community, find employment and take care of their family without stress and strain.
"It's imperative we help veterans of all ages to utilize and expand the skills they've acquired while they were doing the nation's business," he continued. "We want them to be able to compete in today's environment - whether it's high-tech or they want to go back to the farm, go into manufacturing or whatever that is."