VA hires 85 workers to speed vets’ claims

“The increase in staff positions has not only helped us do our mission more effectively but has brought much-needed jobs to our local community,” Buffalo VA Regional Office Director Donna P. Terrell said.

The new hires, Terrell explained, are involved in support work, assisting adjudicators who decide on compensation for service-related disabilities, pension benefits and the VA’s education program, which provides funding for vets to attend college.

“These additional workers are helping us improve the quality of service provided to our veterans and stimulate the local economy,” Terrell said. “The Buffalo Regional Office is fortunate to have these employees.”

Money to hire the workers came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which allocated $150 million to train new VA staffers and place them at benefits offices around the country.

With the new hires at the VA Benefits Office on South Elmwood Avenue, there are now 455 employees.

And while the Recovery Act money runs out in September, President Obama has budgeted additional funds in his proposed 2011 budget to retain or replace the employees.

The additional hires are a testament to the positive economic impact that local veterans have on the economy, said Sergio Rodriguez, deputy director of the Erie County Veterans Service Agency and a former Marine.

“With the expansion of government services to the veterans community, Western New York stands to benefit immensely,” Rodriguez said.

During a recent visit to Buffalo, U. S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki vowed to shorten wait times for processing veterans’ claims. He said that over the next year, conditions would improve.

“We’re a large organization, and we’re talking about cultural changes. We have begun pilot programs for clearing claims,” Shinseki said, promising to return to Buffalo a year from now to discuss progress at that point.

Overall, the Department of Veterans Affairs has hired an additional 2,300 people to work in benefits offices around the country.

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