SAN MATEO, CA - Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) today released a letter (text below) from the Oakland VA that supports her request that claims of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange be expedited. As of July 16, 2012, 90 percent of the claims at the Oakland VA fail to meet the VA’s overall goal of completing claims within 125 days—this is the worst performance record of any VA office in the nation. Additionally, 36 percent of the backlogged cases concern veterans from the Vietnam era.

Congresswoman Speier stated, “Vietnam veterans with cancer, diabetes and heart conditions should not run the risk of dying before their claims are honored, but that has been a grim possibility when waits exceed two or three years. The director of the Oakland VA has promised to expedite claims from veterans with a terminal illness or those who face homelessness. I will hold him to that promise. “

Congresswoman Speier’s office represents veterans with terminal illnesses and financial hardships who have filed a claim for a service-connected disability. Her office alerts the Oakland VA whenever a claim requires a prompt response due to the veteran’s failing health, or financial constraints. At a May 21, 2012 “VA fix-it meeting” in San Francisco, Speier told the Oakland VA director about numerous cases where ailing veterans had been subjected to unjustified waits for a claims decision. Dozens of cases have been resolved since that time and the congresswoman said that she expected a large number of the May 21 cases to be resolved by the end of this month.

“I and other members of Congress and the community of veterans will not rest until backlogged VA claims become ancient history,” stated Speier. “

Text of the letter:

Oakland Regional Office
1301 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94612-5209

July 13, 2012

The Honorable Jackie Speier
U. S. House of Representatives
211 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515

Dear Congresswoman Speier,

Thank you for your letter dated June 27, 2012, requesting fast track processing of claims related to Agent Orange.  We share your concern regarding the age of the claims pending at the Oakland VA Regional Office (VARO) and the seriousness of the conditions that plague many of our Veterans.  I assure you that the Oakland VARO is putting forth all efforts to ensure that our Veterans receive the services they have so honorably earned.   

In reviewing claims from Vietnam Veterans, the Oakland VARO is diligent in ensuring that all components necessary for a rating decision are correctly identified and obtained.  In so doing, the Oakland VARO follows the policies and regulations that guide claims development.  The Oakland VARO employees are trained to recognize when sufficient evidence has been submitted to properly adjudicate a claim.  

Additionally, certain actions can be taken to identify Vietnam Veterans, such as verifying qualifying Vietnam service based upon a discharge document, the DD Form 214, or the Veteran’s personnel file.  Further, there are guidelines in place for verifying Vietnam service for Veterans having served near or on the coastal waters of Vietnam.   The Oakland VARO employs all aforementioned tools when reviewing a claim from a Vietnam era Veteran to ensure that the necessary documentation is present to allow our Rating Veteran Service Representatives to render the correct decision. 

The Oakland VARO also has processes in place to ensure that claims from terminally ill Veterans, to include Vietnam Veterans, and those Veterans who are in financial hardship, Seriously Injured or Very Seriously Injured and our Homeless Veterans are quickly identified and expedited.  We appreciated your continued assistance in bringing these cases to our attention for expedited actions.

As we consider our entire inventory of pending claims, we recognize that we still have a great deal of work to accomplish and many Veterans to assist.  The Oakland VARO understands that as we look to the future, our approach is to repair and transform the claims processes in our office so that they are responsive to all Veterans seeking services.  Our plan envisions drastic reductions in the inventory and reforms to work processes that will sustain improved performance over time.  We are still early in our process, but assure you progress is being made.

The Oakland VARO is working to correct systemic concerns so that the office can render all rating decisions within a reasonable timeframe.  Please feel free to contact Mr. Bragg with cases needing special attention.

Thank you for your continued assistance to America’s Veterans.

Willie C. Clark                           Douglas L. Bragg
Director, Western Area    Director, VA Regional Office
                                                     Oakland, California