Maryland's U.S. House delegation met Wednesday with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to keep pressure on the agency to fix problems at the troubled Baltimore office and follow up on promises for improvement.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who is House minority whip, said Maryland veterans should call their congressmen to report troubles with the regional office, which has one of the nation's highest error rates and largest percentages of backlogged cases.
"We have an obligation to stand up for the brave men and women who have fought so hard for our nation and ensure they have the care and resources they need to transition to civilian life," Hoyer said in a statement.
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"Unfortunately, the large backlog and high rate of errors we are seeing at the Baltimore Regional Office means that we aren't fulfilling that obligation to Maryland veterans. While the VA is taking positive steps to improve the situation, we have more work to do."
Hoyer invited Shinseki to the bipartisan delegation meeting following a series of articles in The Baltimore Sun, which revealed the problems in late January. The Baltimore office serves Maryland's 450,000 veterans.
The VA announced in February that it would deploy senior staff to Baltimore, conduct advanced employee training and implement a new digital processing system ahead of schedule. The agency also is expediting provisional ratings for the oldest disability claims, as part of a national initiative that took effect last week.
Hoyer said caseworkers in the Congress members' offices will meet with the staff in the Baltimore VA's office to follow up on the progress on individual veterans' cases. He requested the VA's local leadership meet with the congressional caseworkers.
Members of the Maryland delegation applauded the agency on its recent efforts, which have increased output locally. Between 1,200 and 1,400 claims have been processed each month this year, about double the average number of cases in previous months.
The delegation called on the VA to develop a comprehensive plan for long-term improvement at the Baltimore office, as well as retain a qualified workforce there.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the delegation is committed to monitoring the VA's progress in Baltimore.
"One of my office's top priorities is working with local veterans caught in government red-tape, so we know their frustrations firsthand," Ruppersberger said in a statement. "The situation is and has been unacceptable for years."