VA’s Disability Claims Backlog Pushes 900,000
by Bob Brewin
Nextgov.com, April 19, 2012
The Veterans Affairs Department faces a “staggering” backlog of 897,566 disability claims with more than 65 percent pending for more than 125 days, a problem compounded by an error rate of 16 percent, representatives of veterans’ services organizations told lawmakers on the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
The department has seen a 48 percent increase in claims since 2008. Officials expect the backlog will grow to 1.2 million claims this year and another 50,000 will accrue in 2013 as veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars flood the system, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in March. He vowed to process all claims in fewer than 125 days with a 98 percent accuracy standard by 2015.
Jeffrey Hall, assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, an advocacy group, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that “while the elimination of the backlog will be a welcome milestone, we must remember that eliminating the backlog is not necessarily the same goal as reforming the claims processing system, nor does it guarantee that veterans are better served.”
James Wear, assistant director for veterans benefits policy for the group Veterans of Foreign Wars, testified that the high error rate and the poor quality of VA’s rating decisions, which determine the financial benefits veterans receive, are a serious problem.
“Quality of decision-making is problematic…. The national average [error rate] has remained nearly stationary at 16 percent for months,” Wear said, adding that the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Baltimore regional office has the worst claims error rate in the country — 29 percent, which is a slight improvement over its error rate of 33 percent just a few months ago.
Randall Fisher, the American Legion’s service officer for Kentucky, told lawmakers that in order to improve the claims process, VA must make training a priority and hire more veterans whose experience would prove beneficial. Hall said due to budget constraints, VA has cut back on training, conducting it locally rather than using its national training academy.
“We have concerns that this change was made strictly for short-term financial considerations rather than to achieve the long-term goal of reforming the claims processing system,” he said.
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