New $300-Million Computer System May Provide Relief For VA’s Backlog of 870,000 Veterans’ Benefits Claims

VA Pledges to Overhaul Disability Claims System

Promise comes after The Bay Citizen reveals Bay Area veterans wait an average of 313 days

by Aaron Glantz
The Bay Citizen, April 16, 2012

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it would overhaul operations at 12 of its offices in the next few months in order to reduce the time veterans must wait for decisions on their disability claims.

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinsecki has pledged to fix the agency's growing backlog of more than 870,000 benefits claims. VA is deploying a $300-million computer system. Shinsecki says the VA has a "goal" of reducing waiting times for veterans in need of benefits to four months. A recent survey in the Bay Area found veterans are forced to wait more than 300 days on average for VA to process their claims.

The move comes a day after The Bay Citizen revealed that the backlog of disability claims had exploded to 870,000 under the Obama administration, despite the appropriation of more than $300 million for a new computer system and the hiring of thousands of new claims professionals nationwide.

The problem is particularly acute in the Bay Area, where, according to figures provided by the VA, returning soldiers wait an average of 313 days for a decision. Eighty percent must wait at least 125 days. Of the nearly 60 VA offices around the country, the Oakland office, which handles claims filed by veterans in California north of Los Angeles, had been the slowest to issue rulings.

But new figures released by the VA on Monday show Seattle surpassing Oakland as the slowest office, with 81.1 percent of claims in Washington state pending for more than 125 days, compared to 80.8 percent for Oakland.

Yet neither Oakland nor Seattle is among the first offices the VA intends to overhaul as part of its “transformation plan,” which focuses on the deployment of a new computer system, streamlined processing procedures and new quality-control measures.

“Given the situation in Oakland, I would hope it would be one of the first offices they would like to overhaul,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo).

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