OAKLAND (CBS SF) - Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner called on Gov. Jerry Brown Monday to support spending provisions recently approved by state legislators that would provide $6 million to reduce the long backlog of veterans' benefit claims in California.
Speaking at a news conference outside the veterans memorial building near Lake Merritt in Oakland, Skinner, D-Berkeley, said the state Legislature last week passed a provision that would provide $3 million to send "strike teams" of 36 state workers to help shrink backlogs at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offices in Oakland and other locations in the state.
Lawmakers also passed a provision that would allocate an additional $3 million for county veterans service officers who would help veterans get their claims filed, she said.
"Our veterans put their lives on the line for us abroad, but here at home they are not being served and are facing a shameful situation," Skinner said.
She said veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan often have to wait from one to three years to have their requests processed for benefits such as disability claims, education expenses and employment services.
The problem is particularly bad in California, which has 2 million veterans—the most of any state, Skinner said.
The Oakland Veterans Affairs office, which serves all of Northern California, has the longest wait times in the nation, and the wait times have skyrocketed from an average of 283 days in January 2012 to 562 days now, she said.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is a federal agency, Skinner said California should spend money to help because "these people deserve it" and because the state's effort could bring up to an estimated $886 million in federal funding to the state if all of the pending benefit claims are granted.
Skinner said Brown has until June 30 to sign the state budget but she's concerned about reports that his aides have questioned why the state, rather than the federal government, should spend money to help reduce the backlog.
A spokesman for the governor's office could not immediately be reached for comment.
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