My congressional office recently wrapped up a case for a World War II veteran who saw his delayed appeal approved shortly after contacting me, generating a substantial new monthly payment and back pay of over $32,000. My constituent knew something that I want all of America’s valued veterans to know: They can and should contact their congressional representatives for assistance navigating challenges with the Department of Veterans Affairs and receiving the benefits they earned through their service and sacrifice.
While your representative might not serve on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, all members of Congress employ staff who serve as liaisons between veterans and the VA. When veterans experience trouble with claims or issues involving VA benefits or health care, these designated caseworkers work to ensure that each case receives full and fair consideration based on VA policies. Caseworkers are empowered to place inquiries and request that cases be noted with “congressional interest” on behalf of the elected representatives for whom they serve.
Contacting a congressional representative can also produce a quicker response than a standard inquiry to a public VA point of contact. After a veteran submits pertinent documents and a signed privacy release form, the caseworker contacts a VA representative dedicated to fielding congressional requests. The VA representative acknowledges the inquiry, researches the case, and generates a thorough response, which the caseworker then relays to the veteran. Through inquiries, caseworkers are often able to obtain status updates, answer questions, determine reasons claims were denied, communicate any issues needing correction, and convey the next steps based on the responses.
While not all inquiries can produce results veterans seek, connecting with a congressional office regarding concerns with the VA can help identify common challenges and draw attention to areas in need of legislative action.
Contacting the VA with the support of a congressional office can result in debt waivers, expedited benefits decisions and record requests, bill payments, benefit adjustments, disability percentage increases, resolution of Veterans Choice Program concerns, and many more favorable outcomes in accordance with VA policy. Caseworkers may pass along a constituent’s request for expedited processing due to a veteran’s advanced age, terminal illness, or financial hardship. In some cases, placing a congressional inquiry regarding a disappointing experience can elicit a timely explanation and apology from VA leadership.
It’s important to know that due to strict congressional ethics rules and the constitutional separation of powers, congressional offices cannot place undue influence on the VA to rule in favor of constituents or overrule decisions determined in line with policy. Caseworkers also cannot assist in preparing VA paperwork, provide legal advice, or intervene in matters involving courts. In many cases, however, caseworkers can point veterans toward helpful resources such as veterans service organizations or county resources available to assist.
Assisting veterans in correcting wrongs with the VA is one of the most important functions of Congress. At the same time, I share veterans’ frustration when policy is not on their side. While not all inquiries can produce results veterans seek, connecting with a congressional office regarding concerns with the VA can help identify common challenges and draw attention to areas in need of legislative action. As a member of Congress, I monitor this essential feedback closely and keep it in mind as I consider legislative proposals to improve the VA. Therefore, it is critical for veterans to communicate these issues so Congress can not only assist with individual cases, but also work to implement the best policies that fulfill our nation’s commitment.
I encourage veterans across the country to connect with their elected congressional representatives, regardless of political party affiliation, if problems arise with the VA. Veterans may conduct a search using their home address to connect with caseworkers in their representatives’ House or Senate offices.
Rep. Susan Davis represents California’s 53rd Congressional District. She a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.