The Veterans Affairs Department is chipping away at the massive disability claims backlog and has worked its way through more than 65,000 claims in just a couple of months, according to officials.
In April, VA launched an initiative to speed up disability compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited a year or longer. Since then, more than 65,000 claims – 97 percent of all claims 2 years or older in the inventory – have been processed.
Veterans Benefits Administration staff will now take on the disability claims of veterans who have waited for more than a year for a decision, while also tackling the oldest claims.
Although VA has completed almost all claims pending two years or longer, “much work remains to be done to eliminate the backlog in 2015,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said.
VA’s decision to implement mandatory overtime for VBA claims processing staff helped reduce the number of longest-pending claims. Staff also received support from physicians from the Veterans Health Administration, who expedited exams to provide medical evidence needed to rate these pending claims.
In the coming days, staff will finalize the remaining 1-year-old claims, with the exception of those that are outstanding due to unique circumstances – such as a claimant being unavailable for a needed medical exam.
In May, the department mandated overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to handle compensations claims decisions more efficiently. Today, the number of claims is at its lowest since August 2011, and claims older than 125 days have seen a 10 percent decrease since May, according to the department.
VA has also taken recent steps make the disability claims entirely electronic. The department announced June 18 the integration of the internal Veterans Benefits Management System electronic claims processing system into the eBenefits system. The end goal is to eliminate the claims backlog by 2015 and make the process paperless.