The massive backlog of veterans’ disability claims remains unresolved. It seems officials at the US Veterans Administration are in face-saving mode after missing the October 1 deadline issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs to eliminate a massive backlog of military veterans’ disability claims. Zero for us is not an absolute zero, VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey said recently as the deadline loomed and some 75,000 months-old claims still had not been cleared.
A 2013 report showed that the backlog of pending disability claims had hit an all-time high of more than 611,000. The report, and the public backlash that followed, prompted the agency to design and implement an improvement plan. As of April 2014, that backlog had been reduced to about 344,000 and veterans were waiting an average 119 days less for a decision on their claims than they were the year prior. Dan Caldwell, legislative director at Concerned Veterans for America (CV4A), points to three primary reasons for the missed deadline:
- The crash of 2008 hit many veterans hard financially, forcing them into the disability system.
- The VA’s decision to expand eligibility for Agent Orange-related disability claims and to re-adjudicate many claims that were previously rejected in the 1970s and 1980s prompted an influx of claims from Vietnam-era veterans.
- Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have applied for disability at significantly higher rates and received higher disability ratings than previous generations.
There’s also the issue of what some call the “hidden backlog,” hundreds of claims that have entered the claims appeal process, where a case may take years to resolve. Though the VA has reduced the backlog by some 84 percent since 2013, the error rate on claims completion has increased dramatically, hitting upward of 30 percent in some areas – this despite the implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management System, a $500 million software system designed to address the inefficiency of paper-based claims.
According to an inspector general report, the system has largely failed. “If you look at how they’ve been able to reduce the backlog, it’s been by throwing a lot of manpower at it, outsourcing, and hiring more claims workers,” Caldwell said in a conference call with reporters. “They really haven’t fixed some of the bottlenecks that have led to the claims backlog.” The DVA has extended the deadline December 31, but many are calling for the resignation of key agency officials, including Hickey, as well as an independent team appointed to examine agency records and implement new accountability measures.
If you are a veteran planning to submit a claim, appealing a claim decision or waiting for a long overdue clearance of your claim, call 800-251-1111 and speak with a dedicated veteran’s disability benefits attorney with Jacksonville’s Harrell and Harrell.