As of this summer, the total number of backlogged files — claims that have been pending for more than four months — was at 187,540. The figure had been as low as 70,000 claims before the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
Military Times’ recent article entitled “Overdue veterans disability claims down almost a quarter in last four months” reports that since then, partial closures of benefits offices slowed processing of the disability claims. At the same time, the volume of new claims (particularly ones in recent years tied to the expansion of illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War) increased, putting additional pressure on the system.
Recent totals are 29% lower than that mark. Despite the rapid progress, officials have said it may take until mid-2024 to see the figure below the 100,000 case level again.
VA officials said that new hirings and employee overtime has helped with much of the recent improvement.
Last fall, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the Veterans Benefits Administration would hire and train 2,000 employees to assist with the increasing volume of disability benefits claims processing. Roughly 80% of those new workers have started working. Plus, VA officials said they’ve paid for about $100 million worth of overtime for existing employees through American Rescue Plan funds awarded by Congress in early 2021.
In a statement, department leaders also credited new automated claims processing systems with helping streamline the work, leading to additional decreases in the backlog.
“Through these efforts, the claims development and decision-making portion of the claims process is more efficient and improves decision accuracy,” the statement said. “VBA continues to improve and expand this automated decision support process.”
The claims backlog has been a source of frustration and concern in recent times, particularly before the department’s processing systems were shifted to fully electronic files. The logjam hit its peak in spring 2013 at more than 610,000 cases, prompting calls from lawmakers and advocates for wholesale changes in how the claims are handled.
Reference: Military Times (June 27, 2020) “Overdue veterans disability claims down almost a quarter in last four months”