As processing speed improves, official expresses confidence of meeting the effort's 2015 target.
The Veterans Affairs Department has cut the number of disability compensation claims pending for more than two years by 65,000, the department reports. The reduction in the claims backlog comes in part due to improved IT programs.
The reduction represents a 97 percent decrease in the VA's longest-unresolved claims, headway officials attribute to an initiative launched in April to expedite such claims through provisional decisions. The department also mandated overtime for claims processors at its 56 regional benefits offices in May.
Overall, the VA in the past two months reduced its overall number of claims by more than 5 percent, according to VA documents, from roughly 887,000 as of April 15 to just under 841,000 as of June 15. Currently, 66 percent of those claims are at least 125 days old, a figure down from nearly 70 percent two months ago.
The VA did not offer exact figures for the number of its longest-pending claims, those older than a year or two years.
The decreases put the VA a step closer toward VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's goal of processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy by the end of 2015.
"I honestly believe we're going to hit that number," Thomas Murphy, the department's director of compensation services, recently told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Murphy said the VA is "at a tipping point" in the backlog reduction efforts, according to a release from committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
To support the goal, Sanders introduced the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013, a bill outlining reform efforts and transparency improvements designed to strengthen and streamline VA claims operations and processes.
"VA must do a better job of showing not only Congress, but also veterans and their survivors how VA plans to accomplish the ambitious goal of eliminating the claims backlog by 2015," Sanders said. "That is why this bill would require VA to publicly report, on a quarterly basis, information on both VA's quarterly goals and actual production. This would allow Congress and the public to see both the successes and failures of VA's transformation efforts, measure VA's progress, and allow for quicker adjustments when necessary."
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