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Shutdown Torpedoes VA Efforts to Cut Claims Backlog

Ioana Davies/Shutterstock.com

Before Tuesday, when agencies were forced to shut down unfunded operations or those otherwise exempt from the effects of the Congressional budget impasse, the Veterans Affairs Department had planned to continue mandatory overtime for claims processors until Nov. 16 and voluntary overtime until Dec. 31. But those plans have changed, a VA spokeswoman told Nextgov.

“As a result of Congress’ failure to act and prevent a lapse in appropriations, VA will not be able to continue overtime for claims processors,” said Victoria Dillon, the acting department press secretary in an email.

In May, VA began requiring claims processors to work overtime -- a minimum of 20 hours per month -- to process disability and education claims. The overtime helped the department significantly reduce the number of disability claims backlogged more than 125 days by more than 190,000, from a peak of 611,000 in March to about 418,500 on Sept. 30.

“This clear progress for veterans and their families is at risk without immediate action by Congress” Dillon wrote.

She also credited deployment of the Veterans Benefits Management System, an automated claims processing system, to all 56 Veterans Benefits Administration regional offices in June with aiding the backlog reduction.

Stephan Warren, the department’s acting chief information officer, told reporters last week that the VA continues to upgrade VBMS with software patches that continuously enhance the system, such as one that allows processors to easily pull electronic information from outside sources into a claims folder.

Dillon said the mandatory overtime and VBMS together have helped the Veterans Benefits Administration process more than 1,000 additional claims per day. The agency has been processing over 100,000 claims on average per month and nearly 1.2 million claims in fiscal year 2013. Those are “historic production levels VBA has never reached before,” Dillon said, with 90 percent accuracy.

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(Image via Ioana Davies/Shutterstock.com)

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