Gov. Rick Perry, along with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, have authorized the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) to use $1.5 million from its 2012-2013 biennial budget to address the backlog of veterans’ claims pending before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The governor also authorized a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Office so TVC can begin immediately addressing the issue.

“Our veterans have put their lives on the line in the name of service to our country, and we owe it to these brave men and women and their families to ensure they get the services they need and deserve,” Gov. Perry said. “Texas will not sit by while our veterans wait to receive their benefits from the federal government. These efforts by the Texas Veterans Commission will help veterans in our state more quickly and seamlessly receive the support they need.”

The TVC will use the authorized funds to address the claims backlog on both ends of the filing process. The TVC will create a state strike force team at each of the two VA regional offices in the state, modeled after the successful claims processing assistance teams that Gov. Perry funded in 2009, which cleared more than 17,000 cases from the VA backlog between November 2009 and July 2011. The TVC will also create fully developed claims teams in Dallas, Fort Worth, Temple, Austin, Houston, San Antonio and McAllen with claims counselors to improve access and assist veterans in filing and fully developing claims. Staff from these teams will also be located at each regional office to expedite fully developed claims, and work on claims for veterans and family members with unique challenges.

“Our Texas veterans deserve a system in place that properly honors and respects their service to our country, instead of putting them on waiting lists,” Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said. “I’m proud to join Gov. Perry and Speaker Straus in making sure the Texas Veterans Commission has the tools it needs to help reduce the federal backlog of disability claims so our veterans can get the benefits they have rightfully earned.”

“The Members of the Texas House believe that veterans should not have to wait one extra minute to receive the benefits they earned,” Speaker Straus said. “These veterans served bravely and honorably, and our actions will help the federal Department of Veterans Affairs provide them benefits in a more timely manner.”

The claims backlog delays decisions on veterans’ disability compensation and medical care, often causing physical and economic hardship for veterans and their families. Data from the VA shows the backlog of claims filed has more than doubled from 2010 to the present. Currently, 74 percent of claims in the Houston Regional Office and 78 percent of claims in the Waco Regional Office have been pending for more than 125 days.