VA touts progress on claims backlog; critics say it's not enough
- By Amber Corrin
- Aug 21, 2013
26,000 petition signers would like to see VA Secretary Eric Shinseki lose his job over the department's claims backlog. (File photo)
Officials at the Veterans Affairs Department say the number of backlogged compensation claims has shrunk by 20 percent since its March peak, but critics are maintaining a full-court press on the White House to further reduce the VA's claims inventory.
VA documents show the number of pending claims totaled 773,000 as of Aug. 19, including 490,000 that have been pending for more than 125 days. In July the Veterans Benefits Administration completed nearly 105,000 claims, the third month in a row the total exceeded 100,000.
"VA is aggressively implementing its plan to eliminate the backlog – a set of actions targeted at reorganizing and retraining its people, streamlining its processes, and deploying technology designed to achieve VA's goal of processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015," reads a Veterans Benefits Administration fact sheet.
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) welcomed the news.
"I am pleased to see the VA making significant progress in reducing what everyone continues to recognize as an unacceptable backlog. No veteran should have to wait years to receive the benefits they have earned," Sanders said in a statement. "We must remain aggressive and we intend to closely monitor the situation to ensure that the progress continues, but I am glad we are now making progress toward the goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015."
The VA's announcement marks ongoing improvement in meeting the 2015 deadline.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama also reiterated support for reducing the VA's claims backlog.
"Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we're making progress," Obama said Aug. 10 at the Disabled Veterans Convention in Orlando, Fla. "And we're not going to let up until we eliminate the backlog once and for all. And we'll keep moving ahead with paperless systems so the backlog doesn't come back, and so your claims are processed right – the first time, on time."
Critics insist that the progress is not coming fast enough. On Aug. 20, members of Concerned Veterans for America gathered near the White House to hand-deliver a petition with 26,000 veterans' signatures demanding an end to the backlog, as well as an end to Secretary Eric Shinseki's tenure.
"There are still 500,000 veterans waiting in the disability claims backlog, and this is unacceptable," the organization said in a statement. "CVA is keeping the heat on and will ensure the voices of veterans are heard."
Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering defense and national security. Connect with her on Twitter: @AmberInsideDOD.