On April 1, the Department of Veteran Affairs released a statement saying that it had reduced its backlog of pending disability claims by more than 267,000 in one year. That’s a 40 percent decrease from the March 2013 peak backlog of 611,000 claims. A backlogged claim is defined as any claim that has been pending for more than 125 days.
Chicago lawyer Howard Ankin applauds the VA’s progress, but cautions that there’s still more work to done. He pointed out that even after the decrease, there are still more than 344,000 claims that have been pending for more than 125 days. Some of those may have been pending for more than a year. Mr. Ankin said, “Our troops have made the ultimate sacrifice by serving our country. Many of them suffer from disabilities that limit their ability to work. They need Social Security benefits and we owe it to them to provide assistance in a timely manner after their deployment ends.”
The VA says that the reduction is due to a renewed focus on accuracy and expediency in 2010. The agency called at that time for all claims to be processed within 125 days and at a 98 percent accuracy rate. Agency officials say the VA is making progress on both fronts, but has had setbacks.
The VA had reduced the backlog to less than 340,000 claims in 2011, but that number went up after new conditions were added to the disability eligible list. Among those conditions were those related to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. That alone added 150,000 pending claims to the backlog.
The agency has focused on improved training and more efficient processes. The VA recently transitioned from paper claims processing to a state-of-the-art electronic system. The agency has also mandated overtime and placed greater priority on the oldest claims.
Howard Ankin says those are welcome changes. The Chicago lawyer said that he has seen many veterans who are simply not able to function at a high level because of injuries related to combat. He hopes the VA and Social Security continue to make progress.