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Heller has tough words for Reno office on VA claims backlog

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Heller has tough words for Reno office on VA claims backlog

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Jul 17, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Nevada Sen. Dean Heller had some tough words this week for the Department of Veterans Affairs over the backlog of disability compensation claims.

"Reno has the worst regional office in the country," Heller, a Republican, said during the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The backlog in disability claims is a nationwide problem but numbers from the VA show the Reno Regional Office, which handles most claims for Nevada, has struggled to catch up.

Heller said Nevada veterans are still waiting months for processing.

"I don't think the rank and file are at fault here. I truly do believe it's a management problem and I'm certainly hoping and have called for changes in that particular office," Heller said, referring to his previous calls for the office director to step down or be removed.

The VA did not specifically respond to Heller's calls for a new director, instead saying in a statement that "insuring stable leadership and staffing" is a priority.

The agency said Nevada veterans with a pending claim are waiting an average of 183 days, down from 351 days in 2013; but the VA also noted that 2,500 claims have been brokered to other offices for processing this fiscal year.

"Significant progress has been made to provide decisions to Nevada’s Veterans – reducing the backlog by over 50 percent since its peak in February 2013. There is still more work to do, however, we remain confident we will achieve our goal of no claim pending over 125 days with 98% accuracy by 2015," VA Western Area Director Willie Clark said in an emailed statement.

Rick Houle of Las Vegas is one of many Nevada veterans with a claim. 

Paperwork from the VA shows Houle, a Marine Corps veteran, filed a claim in 2011 and was denied in 2013. However, Houle is currently gathering more evidence for the VA to reconsider the decision. The agency's own tracking system said he may not get an answer until 2015.

"There will be mornings where I can't get out of bed," said Houle, who has back pain following an injury he sustained during his time in the reserves in 1979.

Houle has lived in Nevada for about 20 years but his claim was sent to Cleveland for processing. He believes the VA system needs to be changed in order for the agency to end the backlog. 

The VA has set a goal of ending the backlog by 2015; the office announced this week that it has reduced the nationwide backlog by 55 percent from its peak in March, 2013.

Michael Lopardi

Michael Lopardi

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Michael Lopardi is the featured reporter of the You Ask. We Investigate. franchise at Action News.