An Ode to VA: Let Me Count the Ways

Department would do itself a favor by better explaining statistics on its disability claims backlog.

The Veterans Affairs Department, as I reported today, shares its disability claims backlog weekly in a couple of ways, including a top-line number that makes the backlog look worse than it really is.

Take this week’s report, with the top line number for “Compensation and Pension Entitlement” showing VA had a total of 833,130 pending claims as of June 24 , with 547,922 -- or 65.9 percent -- backlogged for more than 125 days.

But, as VA spokeswoman Meagan Lutz patiently explained to me, that number is not an accurate reflection of reality, as it includes claims that require rating by examiners -- a tough job that determines the level of compensation a veteran will receive for a disability -- as well as simpler stuff, such as adding a dependent.

The numbers that really indicate the extent of the backlog are found in the next line of the weekly report, titled “Compensation and Rating Bundle,” which shows the number of claims awaiting rating. This week that line totaled 801,931, or 32,199 fewer than the top line. And there were 524,711 claims backlogged more than 125 days, 23,211 fewer than the top line.

The end result of this murky numbers game is that VA ends up shooting itself in the foot as Congress and reporters (me included) fasten on the top line numbers.

My suggestion to VA: Put an explainer on the weekly report Web page that clearly states what the numbers mean.