VA Hits Important Benchmark, but Problem Far from Solved

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took a step forward toward alleviating the backlog of disability claims, but that problem is still far from solved.

For the first time since February 2011, the number of backlogged disability claims dropped below the 350,000 mark. That’s a decrease of more than 250,000 cases in the past year, a pace that officials believe they can maintain to bring the backlog to zero by 2015.

Still, 350,000 veterans remain in what has been a rather long waiting line for the past several years. The backlog number is based on the number of claims pending for more than 125 days.

VA Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey said that new technology, the new paperless claims system, better training of claims workers, and improved communication systems have all contributed to the decrease. In addition, the Undersecretary acknowledged that mandatory overtime for claims processors over the last two years has been a critical tool for shrinking the backlog, but constant overtime is not a sustainable business model.

Although there is much work to be done, this is certainly welcome news. The backlog number is also at its lowest mark since before claims tied to new presumptive illnesses from Agent Orange exposure overwhelmed the benefits system.

The move to make those presumptive illnesses eligible for VA benefits in 2010 was popular among veteran advocacy groups, but it also led to a dramatic slowdown in the completion of disability claims as tens of thousands of new cases poured into the claims processing system.

The VA’s ability to deal with claims quickly and reliably came into question, and the Department received stricter scrutiny from Capitol Hill. Now, almost four years later, it seems as though the VA has achieved some progress toward shrinking the backlog for veterans.

To read more on this issue, read the Army Times recent report:

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