Old News Revisited – the VA’s Claim Backlog

Remember when we were all up in arms over the VA’s staggering backlog of Veterans’ claims for benefits, almost a million at its peak in 2012?  Images of VA offices with towers of unprocessed claims on desks, chairs, and stacks of claims on the floor flooded the media. Remember?  Paper, paper everywhere.

Part of the problem was the paper…meaning digital processing was not in full use.  Part of the problem was the steady influx of new claims from ten years of war. (From 2010 through 2013, the number of incoming claims each year outnumbered completed claims.) And part of the problem was that claims filed often did not have the supporting documentation required to process them. Heads rolled, changes were made, goals set, promises issued.

So where are we now?  A report through the end of March 2015 states by the end of December 2014, over 90 percent of the inventory of claims had been converted to digital format, able to be processed electronically. That yields both speed and accuracy in processing. Better, since January, 2015, no new paper is entering the claims process, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Still, at the time of the report, the VA’s goal was to have the claim inventory completely converted to digital records in approximately 18 months. That puts us into, um…September of 2016.

As of August 1, the total number of claims that require development and a decision is 369,647.  Of that number, 110,025 are “backlogged,” meaning they’ve been waiting for a decision for more than 125 days. “Backlogged” seems to mean “stopped” in a sense, because other statistics on the VA website show that electronically filed FDC’s (fully developed claims) are processed in about 5 months, where non-FDC claims take just over 6 months.  Even when all your ducks are lined up so that you can use the “express lane” that’s still a chunk of time.

I guess I’m asking if 5-6 months is the best we can do.  If that’s the case, then the complicated claims are really out of luck because there’s another 125 days or more tacked on. That would be the backlog.  I have to think these are the vets that are the most hurting.  And that takes me to the suicide statistic: 22 a day.

C’mon, America.  Let’s make more noise about this.

If you know a veteran who needs help, please call our Lifeline for Vets: 888.777.4443.

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Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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