The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently made significant progress in reducing the backlog for veteran’s disability claims, but will likely still struggle to meet its 2015 goals, according to a new report from the National Council on Disability released November 12.
“Serious delays hinder service members’ obtaining the benefits that are so crucial to resuming their civilian lives,” the NCD states in the report’s executive summary. “The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has undertaken efforts to reduce a long-standing disability claims-processing backlog, close transition gaps, and provide supports and services that can assist with the full integration of veterans into their communities…Even so, service members returning from present conflicts may be forced to fall in line behind other veterans with pending, backlogged claims.”
Since March, the backlog for disability claims has dropped from 611,000 to 400,835.
The 80-page report cited a variety of reasons for this improvement, including a new program, announced in April, that prioritized claims more than two years old, improvements at the preliminary stages of the claims process, a new “paperless, technology-driven process model,” and “directed use of mandatory overtime for claims staff.”
However, the report also found that veterans still encounter unnecessary evidentiary requirements, especially if they have complex and multiple disabilities, and myriad administrative problems during the process for applying for claims.
In addition to further fostering developing the recent changes, the report, as its overarching recommendation, “encourages deliberate coordination and collaboration among members of Congress, the Executive Branch, relevant federal agencies, and (veterans service organizations)” to further reduce the backlog.
“Well-timed action is urgent. It is particularly critical to the transition from military to civilian life. Like the Iraq War surge of disability claimants, the anticipated end of the war in Afghanistan will strain VA’s resources as more service members file disability claims,” the report states. “Federal Government actions that facilitate an efficient and effective transition are needed to support each veteran’s goals for self-sufficiency and full integration.”
The VA has set a 2015 goal of eliminating the claims backlog and process all claims within 125 days, with 98 percent accuracy.
On October 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill creating a new “commission or task force” to examine the VA backlog.