In the News
August 21, 2016
By Joshua Stewart
Thirteen months after he introduced a bill aimed at getting members of Congress to do more to connect their constituents with federal benefits they’ve earned, Rep. Scott Peters is celebrating a milestone: His staff has helped recover $2 million in backlogged Social Security, veterans and other funds.
“We know that working with the often bureaucratic process of the government can be difficult, but we can help cut through the red tape and help get you the answers, and more important, the results,” Peters said.
While casework doesn’t get as much attention as floor speeches, votes or campaigning, it represents a significant part of what members do and is a part of nearly every staff member’s workload. It’s a mainstay of their district offices. The work is varied, and success and failure can be quantified in different ways, from recovered federal benefits to changes in national policy.
“I get calls, emails like you wouldn’t believe, from people who do some very unique things, and they have some information to provide,” said Joe Kasper, chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine.
Hunter has built a reputation on taking up cases on behalf of service members who are facing career-ending punishments under Defense Department policy. One notable case was that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a Green Beret who was facing separation from the military after he beat up an Afghan commander who was accused of raping a young boy. Martland was eventually able to stay in the service.
Kasper said they handle these issues because they believe that they can help, and because they feel the policy in play is wrong.
“At the very basic level, at the foundational level, there’s a person, there’s a human being. You can see how the broader policy in time affects an individual,” he said.
Peters, while touting $2 million in recovered benefits since he entered office in 2013, said people shouldn’t have to hire emissaries to help get federal benefits they deserve. That’s the job of congressional offices, he and Kasper said.
“A lot of people are out there trying to market these services for money. We can’t always help you, but it’s our job to give it a shot,” Peters said. Kasper likewise said that some people who contact his office seeking help to get government claims processed have hired a middleman, when the district office will do it for free.
People sometimes say they hire third parties after getting nowhere with the federal government.
Last July, Peters introduced a bill that would cut House members’ budgets by 20 percent unless they help constituents with passports, federal income tax returns, veterans benefits, applications, Medicare and Social Security issues, student loans and other matters. They also would have to reach out to their constituents either in print or online to let them know that these services are offered. The bill has sat in committee.
“A lot of time there’s a lack of awareness that our office provides those types of services,” Kasper said.
In Peter’s office, the bulk of the recovered benefits, some $1.26 million worth, came from the Department of Veterans Affairs, while $268,000 came from the Social Security Administration, and $201,000 from the IRS. The Postal Service chipped in $13, less than all of the other government agencies that contributed. In all, more than 2,000 people were assisted, his staff said.
The district office has seven employees, and six spend a large portion of their workday assisting constituents with these issues, his district director, MaryAnne Pintar, said.
Casework varies across districts based on the needs of the residents — if there are more former service members, there will likely be many issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs. If there is an older population, Social Security cases will be more common.