Since 2009, the backlog of claims for VA Disability has more than tripled, and the average amount of time it takes the VA to process a VA Disability Claim has jumped from 161 days to 260 days.
On January 25, 2013, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs published a strategic plan to eliminate the backlog by May 25, 2015 – Memorial Day. The Secretary stated, “We have a fix for this. We’re open for business. And we will end the backlog in 2015.”
Claims pending more than 125 days are considered “backlogged”. Approximately 590,000 claims were backlogged as of August 2012. In 2014 the number of backlogged claims dropped to 309,000, evidence that the Secretary’s plan seems to be working. Reports have come from Congress, however, stating that the Secretary’s plan “does not adequately articulate how the Department will meet its goals, and . . . does not meet the established criteria of the Government Accountability Office for sound planning.” This fuels that already serious doubt on whether the VA will actually be able to fully meet its goals.
The VA’s backlog is a result of a number of factors. One of the factors is the delay in obtaining service records. It can take up to a year for the VA to receive some of the essential records it requests from the DoD and Social Security. Additionally, almost half of the claims processing staff have been in their current roles less than 2 years and still require the supervision and review of the more experienced claims processing staff who are thus diverted from their responsibilities.
In May 2013, a bill entitled “Ending VA Claims Disability Backlog and Accountability Act” was introduced in Congress to help regulate the VA’s efforts to fix the backlog. The bill is meant to ensure that Veterans Affairs will deliver on their commitment to eliminate the backlog in 2015, guaranteeing that all new claims will be processed within 125 days at 98% accuracy. Homeless veterans will also continue to receive top priority in disability claims processing.
Once made into law, this bill would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit regular reports to Congress, further detailing the steps they are taking and their progress to date. This report must include specific procedures used to assess the implementation of the plan and a detailed time line for implementing each objective. Additionally, it would require that all DoD, National Guard, and Social Security records be transferred to the VA within 30 or 60 days of their request. Finally, this bill would require the VA to establish a 3-year training program for newly hired claim processors.
Many of the changes proposed in this bill were also addressed in the Superheroes Fighting the Backlog Act.