Senator Rob Portman has been a leader in pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs for answers on the increasing delays in processing veteran's benefits claims for Ohio veterans.
The backlog is especially bad in the Cleveland VA office. The nationwide average to process a claim is 365 days, which is way too long. However, in Cleveland, reports say that at times it takes the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Regional Office an average of 456 days to process a claim. Senator Rob Portman has requested that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs send monthly accountability reports updating them on progress toward eliminating the agency’s disability claims backlog.
Another VA issue that Senator Rob Portman has been hitting on is the amount of taxpayer-funded union work - called "official time" - that the VA uses. Senators Portman and Tom Coburn introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act, a bill that would reduce “official time” for government employees. Under the practice of “official time”, federal employees can be paid by taxpayers to complete duties that are not related to the mission of their agency, allowing employees to perform union-related activities – many full time – while on federal payroll. According to the Office of Personnel Management, in 2011, the government spent $155 million on 3.4 million hours used for “official time.”
From their investigation, the Senators identified 188 VA employees that should be directly supporting veterans who were doing union work full time while collecting their salaries – in some cases six-figure salaries. Senator Rob Portman continues to argue that we shouldn't be spending VA money on non-VA related union work when there is such a horrible backlog in veterans’ claims.
Senator Portman was the sponsor of the Veterans Missing in America Act, a bill to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to work with veterans groups to help determine whether unidentified or abandoned remains are those of veterans who are eligible for burial at a national cemetery. This bill was enacted in 2012 as part of S3202, the Dignified Burial of Veterans Act. This law now ensures that all veterans, even those without close family, receive the honor they deserve.
Senator Portman also succeeded in getting a provision into the National Defense Authorization in 2012 that directed the Defense Department to establish a plan to standardize educational transcripts to make sure veterans receive the appropriate academic credit for their military training as they are transitioning into civilian life. This legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka, has set the stage for each veteran to get the credit they deserve for military training and make the most of future education and preparation for a subsequent career.
Senator Rob Portman, joined by Senator Mazie Hirono, got an amendment included in the Defense Authorization Act that requires the Defense Department to report on the status of implementing telehealth initiatives as well as plans to integrate telehealth into the military health system. The report is to specifically address privacy issues, challenges in group treatment/therapy, outreach to rural areas, and as in-home use. This innovative capability helps ensure we reach all veterans and servicemembers with state of the art treatment. Senator Portman held a hearing with Senator Jon Tester where Portman pressed the VA on their progress in fielding telehealth initiatives.