The Veterans Affairs Department processed more than 1 million disability claims in fiscal 2012. The backlog of pending claims continued to hover just under the 900,000 mark with almost 600,000 in the system in for more than 125 days.
This marks the third year in a row the Veterans Benefits Administration has processed more than 1 million claims. Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, said Thursday that VA has made significant progress in addressing the backlog, but “we realize much work remains to be done to better serve veterans.”
‘Too many veterans still wait too long [to have their claims processed]. That’s unacceptable,” she said. VA’s move to a paperless, digital disability claims system will provide “a lasting solution that will transform how we operate and eliminate the claims backlog,” she added.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told Congress repeatedly this year that the department will process all claims in less than 125 days with a 98 percent accuracy standard by 2015.
Department officials said August marked VA’s most productive claims processing experience and the department completed a record 107,462 claims with an accuracy rate of 86 percent (compared to 83 percent in September 2011), surpassing the previous monthly record of 103,296 set in 2010.
VA still faces a huge claims backlog, based on data posted on its weekly workload report every Monday. On Sept. 17, the department reported it had 895,248 compensation and pension entitlement claims pending, with 592,792, or 66 percent, pending for more than 125 days.
In sheer numbers, this marks a marginal improvement since April, when VA reported what veterans groups described as a staggering backlog of claims -- 897,566. Though officials managed to whittle that backlog down by 2,318 claims during the past six months, the number of claims pending for more than 125 days edged up 1.2 percent during that period.
W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday that the claims backlog reflected the growth in the number of troops leaving military service following the withdrawal from Iraq and a drawdown in Afghanistan, higher survival rates from combat wounds, and an increase in the number of medical conditions in each claim.
Gould added new regulations covering post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, Gulf War illness and Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans also have boosted the number of claims filed this year.
The department is rapidly developing and testing streamlined processes that will eliminate repetition and revisions, Gould said.
VA has stood up the paperless Veterans Benefits Management System in four of its regional VBA offices and will finish national deployment by the end of 2013, according to Gould. “Our technology initiatives aim to improve access and increase efficiency, with goals to contribute to an additional 15 percent to 20 percent increase in productivity and a 4 percent to 6 percent improvement in claims quality.” he said.