By Debbie Gregory.
Back in 2010, the VA established a goal to reduce the processing of all disability claims to less than 125 days, with a 98% accuracy level. Achieving that goal was obstructed when 150,000 previously decided cases from the Vietnam era needing to be re-adjudicated. Due to court rulings, the inclusion of Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease and certain types of leukemia were added to the list of conditions linked to Agent Orange. The inclusion of the Vietnam era claims, added to the rapidly increasing claims from Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, caused a considerable backlog on the VA’s claims system.
The VA defines “backlog” as any pending claim that is more than 125 days old. In March, 2013, the backlog of VA disability claims was over 611,000. At the end of March, 2014, the VA has managed to reduce their number of backlogged claims by 44%. Over the past year, the VA has processed more than 267,000 disability claims, reducing the number of backlogged claims to 344,000.
The VA also reports that while gaining ground on their backlogged claims, they have increased their overall accuracy of claims from 83% in 2011, to 91% in 2014. The VA determines their accuracy level by dividing the total number of cases that are free from errors by the total number of cases reviewed. Using this same method, which has been double-checked and validated by the Institute for Defense Analyses, the VA scores a 96.5% accuracy rating on claims that are processed inside of 90 days.
The VA credits advancements in technology and methods for reducing the backlog. Moving from a paper application system to using online an application system for claims reduces time and man-hours. Sending, returning, correcting and reviewing claims takes much less time when done electronically as opposed to on paper, taking weeks off the processing time.
The VA has also streamlined their claims process and training methods, which makes inter-office communications and movements of claims much more fluid. The VA also took measures to prioritize claims. The VA has set a new goal to eliminate the backlog of claims completely in 2015.
“No Veteran should have to wait to receive earned benefits. Through a combination of transformation initiatives and the hard work of our employees, we are making significant progress toward our goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. “We still have more work to do, and no one is more committed than our Veterans Benefits Administration employees, over half of whom are Veterans themselves.”
Veterans can learn more about disability and other Veterans benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.