WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is making substantial progress reducing the backlog of disability claims that has bedeviled it for years, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is confident of reaching his goal to eliminate the long waits by 2015.
“No veteran should have to wait for the benefits and services they’ve earned through their service in uniform,” Shinseki said at a roundtable discussion with reporters. “So here in VA, we’ve committed to eliminating the claims backlog – and as I say, not just reducing it, not just better managing it, but going after eliminating it.”
Overall, the backlog – defined as disability claims pending for more than 125 days – dropped from 611,000 this spring to 401,000 today, a 34 percent reduction highlighted by the secretary.
But despite the big drop, the department still has a long way to go to reach the secretary’s oft-stated goal to eliminate the backlog by 2015.
According to other recent VA documents, about 58 percent of VA’s pending claims are still counted in the backlog. That comes after a year in which the department threw significant amounts of overtime at VA processors so they could target the oldest of the old claims.
And since the VA processes its claims in its network of 56 regional offices, the service that individual veterans receive can vary widely. In the Baltimore regional office, for example, the recent backlog figure was 72 percent; in Sioux Falls, S.D., it was 33 percent.
Claims in Baltimore suffered an error rate of 23 percent; in Lincoln, Neb., it was 3 percent.
Shinseki, however, said he remains confident in the ability of his department to capitalize on its recent successes and keep chipping away at the backlog.
“We’ve done well – this trend line is in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it going. I’m not dusting my hands off and saying this is a done deal.”