VA claims backlog saddles disabled veterans

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:15 PM

Mitch Shaw, Standard-Examiner Staff

Department of Veterans Affairs officials say they want to end their massive benefits backlog for disabled veterans by next year, but a new study says progress on the initiative has stalled.

Between March and November of 2013, the VA made significant progress in reducing the backlog of disability compensation claims, going from 611,000 to 400,835 in that time period — a reduction of 34 percent.

But since then, the VA has been unable to reduce the backlog below the 400,000 threshold, according to “The Red Tape Report,” authored by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

As a result, the report says, hundreds of thousands of veterans who were permanently disabled or became sick after their military service are waiting months for compensation checks to arrive to help pay the bills.

Since 2009, the backlog of compensation claims has grown significantly. While VA completed 1 million claims per year in fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012, the number of claims received continues to exceed the number processed.

Errors in the claims process have also led to more appeals, which take an average of four years to reach a final decision, according to the report. In December 2013, more than 265,000 appeals were awaiting a decision.

The advocacy groups report recommended the standardization of VA claims forms to speed up processing, as well as an electronic health record system that can be operated by both the VA and the Department of Defense.

“It is not just about bringing the backlog to zero, but keeping it there,” said Jacqueline Maffucci, IAVA’s research director and author of the report.

Terry Schow, an Ogden-area Vietnam veteran and chair of the VA’s Rural Health Advisory Committee, said the complexity of the issues involved in processing VA claims for compensation has contributed to the backlog.

“The backlog is huge, no doubt, but it is important to note that today’s claims for compensation may involve 12 or more issues,” he said. “Where World War II era claims may only involve two or three issues.”

Schow, former executive director of the Utah VA, said the backlog has also grown as Vietnam veterans have aged and subsequently required more medical attention.

“The bulk of records in the backlog are Vietnam veterans,” he said. “That has to do with them reaching a certain age and also because their are a number of health issues tied to Agent Orange exposure.”

Schow said the backlog issue must be fixed, but said that the VA needs some help from Congress, to look at the various laws on the books and modernize them to assist the VA.

Ogden resident Dennis Howland, a Vietnam veteran who presides over the Northern Utah chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the VA needs more trained evaluators of claims to expedite the processing procedure.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.