Defense

VA Processed 100,000 Fewer Claims Than Planned Last Year

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This story has been updated with comment and background. 

Despite a budget increase, the Veterans Benefits Administration processed 7.9 percent fewer claims than planned in fiscal 2013, while the number of claims received dropped 20.7 percent below expectations, according to data supplied by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Veterans Benefits Administration processed 1,169,085 disability and compensation claims in fiscal 2013 -- 99,978 less than planned, Miller said. The agency received 1,044,508 claims, 272,492 less than expected, he said. The Veterans Affairs Department reported it had 717,007 claims pending as of Oct. 21, with 411,704, or 57.4 percent, backlogged more than 125 days.

Congress provided VBA with a $1.59 billion budget for management and claims processing in 2013, up 8.5 percent from fiscal 2012.

“Even though VA has chipped away at the backlog over the last few months, the department still fell nearly 100,000 claims short of its fiscal year 2013 processing goal,” Miller said. “Congress has provided VA with everything it has asked for to reduce the backlog, so why is the department not delivering the results its leaders promised?”

The VBA claims processing shortfall in 2013 occurred despite gradual rollout of the paperless Veteran Benefits Management System throughout the year, with all 56 regional offices online in June.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has repeatedly touted VBMS as key to eliminating the claims backlog by 2015. When all 56 offices were hooked up to the system, he said, “This is a big cross-over year for us. We have for decades sat astride rivers of paper. Now we are in the process of turning off paper spigots and turning on electronic ones.”

VA also instituted mandatory overtime for its claims processors on May 15 through the end of fiscal 2013 to “help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog,” Shinseki said. VA used mandatory overtime in 2012 for seven and a half months, versus five and half months in 2013.

VA, in an email statement to Nextgov, said it “completed 1.17 million claims in FY13, an all-time high.  This follows a record-breaking 1 million claims per year the three previous fiscal years. For the first time since 2008, VA has completed more claims than it received in a single year.”

VA added it has reduced the claims backlog by nearly 31 percent since March, thanks to claims personnel working a minimum of 20 hours per month of mandatory overtime and the full deployment of VBMS.

The statement said disability claims processing production dropped 25 percent during the government shutdown, “stalling VA’s effort toward reducing the backlog.  The hard work of VBA employees kept the backlog from increasing significantly during the government shutdown.”

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// 12:29 PM ET