Washington (CNN) - Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, hammered the Department of Veterans Affairs for keeping soldiers waiting for their disability checks.
In Saturday's Republican weekly address, the ranking Republican on the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee scolded the VA for failing to deliver on its promise to address the backlog of disability claims. Burr called the department's inaction a "national embarrassment."
"We are in bad shape," he said, citing the nearly 700,000 military families still waiting on a response to claims or appeals.
"As the nation’s military stands down from its war footing, veterans should not have to wage another battle here at home, this time against government bureaucracy," he said.
Burr was incredulous, lampooning the VA for acting only after "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart did a piece on the delays in 2013. He also took a dig at President Barack Obama's administration and Secretary Eric Shinseki for not making a big enough dent in the claims pile-up.
"Jon Stewart finally elevated the problem to the President's desk and spurred his VA secretary into action," Burr said, adding that only "incremental progress" has been made on the issue since it came under the national spotlight.
On average, veterans wait 169 days for a response to their claims. If a former service member appeals a decision on their claim, it takes an average of 1,598 days - more than four years - for their claims to work its way through the process, according to VA 2012 statistics.*
"These delays have real life implications for veterans, especially for those at risk of lapsing back into isolation or a downward spiral that can be difficult to stop," Burr said.
Burr said the country needs to look beyond the White House and the executive branch for solutions to the problem, placing the onus on his colleagues in the Senate and the House to make sure the nation's veterans get the help they need.
"The answer lies with Congress’ responsibility to ensure that VA programs are operating in the way they were intended," he said, "and meeting the needs of the veterans, not the D.C. bureaucrats."
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the average wait time for a response to a claim is 1,598 days.