During his time as both Commander of the Turlock American Legion and Vice Commander of the city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, Wardee “Gunner” Bruce has become all too familiar with the struggles that most veterans in the area face when dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs, like contradicting directions on how to receive discharge documents or long wait times to hear back about benefit claims.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) which aims to alleviate some of the problems veterans face at the VA, known as the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017, or H.R. 1725.
“All veterans run into problems at the VA from time to time. It’s one of those things that you hope to avoid, but never can,” said Bruce. “Most of the time, they aren’t any help.”
While assisting a veteran with obtaining his DD Form 214, a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, Bruce was met with a confusing series of phone numbers to call, which eventually led him to a website where he was able to find the form. Though the DD Form 214 was eventually obtained for the veteran he was trying to help, the process was slow and difficult, even for someone like Bruce who has experience dealing with the VA.
Another problem many new veterans face is the amount of time it takes to get signed up for benefits through the VA after leaving the military. The process used to take about a year and a half, but has since improved to take around eight months. However, that amount of time is still far too long for veterans to begin receiving benefits, said Bruce.
“It takes all of this time because of the backlog of clients,” said Bruce.
Denham’s bill, also sponsored by Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN), addresses duplicative processes contributing to the backlog at the VA. The bill strikes the requirement that in order to file disability claims, a veteran’s examination must be conducted by the VA. H.R. 1725 allows veterans to receive initial examinations from their local physicians, easing the benefits process for those who may live in rural areas far away from the VA and expediting the diagnoses of disabilities.
“This bill is a great first step in delivering on our promise to safeguard our veterans after they laid their lives on the line to safeguard us,” said Denham. “We must continue to hold the VA accountable and seek solutions that improve access, quality and experience for the brave men and women who put on the uniform and answered the call of duty.”
While Bruce believes the bill can help area veterans, he is skeptical about the VA’s ability to actually get veterans their services in a timely matter, even with the help of local doctors.
“That should expedite the process pretty quickly, but then again, the VA still has to pay that doctor and you know how slow bureaucracy is. They don’t often pay as quickly as they set you up for a benefit screening,” said Bruce. “It’s a wait and see game. I hope it works, because it would be very beneficial to us.”
Bruce encouraged any new veterans who are having trouble obtaining benefits to contact the Stanislaus Veterans Center, located at 3500 Sylvan Avenue, where they can find assistance.
Along with H.R. 1725, a slate of several other Denham-supported bills focused on reforming the VA and proving quality of life for veterans passed the House as well. The package of bills work to hold the VA and its employees accountable, reduce the backlog of disability claims, increase compensation rates for veterans with service-connected disabilities, offer new treatment programs for veterans combating brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder and provide avenues for elderly veterans to receive support through care programs. Next, H.R. 1725 and the other veteran-assisting bills will move on to the U.S. Senate.
For H.R. 1725’s full text, visit www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1725.