By Debbie Gregory.
Over the last few years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented several measures in an effort to end the backlog of benefit claims by the end of 2015. In 2014, the VA made up a lot of ground, but can they really eliminate the backlog by the end of this year?
The backlog refers to the number of initial benefits claims that have remained unresolved for more than 120 days. According to the VA, at the start of 2015, the backlog stood at approximately 245,000 cases,.
The VA was only able to reduce the backlog by 90,000 in 2013 and by 160,000 in 2014. By doing the math, it seems unlikely that the VA will be able to as much to eliminate the backlog in one year as they did in the last two years combined.
Looking at new and backlogged claims, the VA completed over 1.3 million compensation and pension benefits claims in fiscal 2014. Since 2013, the VA has utilized a combination of an upgraded, paperless system and worker overtime to aggressively combat the backlog.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald has stated that he is committed to honor the VA’s promise to zero out the backlog and improve the process, moving forward, to prevent delays in processing claims in the future.
As part of the national budget agreement, Congress allotted an extra $40 million to the VA for new backlog-related initiatives, including hiring additional claims processors, and upgrading technology and communication at the VA. Lawmakers also added close to $11 million to the VA budget request for the Board of Veterans Appeals, to address the next disability claims issue–the appeals backlog.
Since the VA has been effectively reducing the claims backlog, the number of appeals has risen significantly, from approximately 245,000 cases in March, 2013, to more than 287,000 cases at the start of 2015. The VA contends that the increase is due to the larger number of cases coming in, and is not a reflection of backlogged claims merely being moved to appeals. Despite the VA’s assurances, several Veterans groups are still concerned about the increasing number of appeals, and how long it will take the VA to complete those claims for Veterans.
For now, the first-time claims backlog has remained stalled since early November, which coincides with similar holiday slowdowns that the VA has seen over the years. The VA will need to start 2015 with zeal if they are going to reach their goal of eliminating the backlog by the end of this year.
For Veterans, the best thing that you can do to help yourself and help other Veterans is to keep the system flowing. Make sure that your claims are complete, with all necessary items attached. Missing information causes claims to be sent back and stalled, log-jamming the system. Using online applications will prevent this, as the programs will tell you when information is missing. Veterans should also utilize their Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) to help them file their claims. Assistance can also be obtained through the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and more. You do not have to be a member to receive assistance from these organizations.