The VA’s notorious claims backlog seems like a never-ending issue. And it might well be.
The VA’s goal is to process all claims within 125 days, so claims become “backlogged” once they have been pending for more than 125 days.
Over the last decade, the VA has revamped their entire claims process and instituted numerous new policies, all with the goal of decreasing the backlog.
Overall, these changes have worked. The backlog in 2013 was over 611,000 claims. Ridiculously high. By 2015, the VA had decreased the backlog to less than 100,000. That’s a massive reduction. Since that time, they have been able to successfully keep the backlog below 100,000… until March 2020.
During this time, while the backlog of claims decreased, the backlog of appeals did not. By 2016, the backlog for VA appeals had reached more than 400,000.
To address this appeals backlog, the VA revamped the entire appeals system in February 2019. From February 2019 to February 2020, the new appeals system decreased the backlog from 425,000 to 174,000.
All the new changes the VA made to both their claims and appeals processes were severely tried when the pandemic shut things down in March 2020.
With the difficulties in getting necessary exams and records, as well as staffing and logistical issues, the claim backlog grew to over 200,000 and is expected to reach 260,000 by the end of October, while the appeals backlog grew to over 200,000 appeals.
These numbers are still far below the 600,000 and 400,000 that existed before the VA’s changes, but they still demonstrate a significant setback in the progress that had been made.
The VA has now put a plan in place to get the claims backlog back to its pre-Covid numbers under 100,000 by April 2024. Starting this month, the VA will be hiring 2,000 new employees to work solely on claims processing. They will also be using funds from the American Rescue Plan to allow for overtime so that employees can process more claims in a timely manner.
While this progress will take a few years and an end to the backlog is still not in sight, hopefully these changes will help the VA recover from the setbacks imposed by the pandemic so that veterans can receive their essential benefits ASAP.