VA Reduces Disability Compensation Claims Backlog
From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2013 A Veterans Affairs Department initiative launched in April to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for veterans who have a waited a year or longer has cleared than 65,000 claims -- or 97 percent of all claims over two years old from the backlog, VA officials announced today.
Veterans Benefits Administration staff now will focus their efforts on completing the disability claims of veterans who have been waiting more than a year for a decision while completing the final batch of oldest claims in progress, officials said.
“Over the past two months, VA has been dedicated to providing earned benefits to the veterans who have waited the longest,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “Thanks to our hard-working VBA employees, we have completed nearly all claims that have been pending two years or longer. We’ve made great progress, but know much works remains to be done to eliminate the backlog in 2015.”
Allison A. Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said the success of this phase of the effort was due in part to the implementation of mandatory overtime for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s claims processing staff, as well as the support of physicians from the Veterans Health Administration, who expedited exams to provide medical evidence needed to rate the pending claims.
The remaining two-year-old claims will be finalized in the coming days, officials said, except for those that are outstanding due to unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas.
In May, VA announced it was mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to increase production of compensations claims decisions, a policy that will continue through the Sept. 30 end of fiscal year 2013. Today, VA has the lowest number of claims in its inventory since August 2011, officials said, and has reduced the number of claims pending for more than 125 days by 10 percent since the initiative began.
Under this initiative, VA claims raters may make final or provisional decisions on the oldest claims in the inventory, which will allow veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible, officials explained. Veterans are able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating before VA issues a final decision.
If no further evidence is received within that year, VBA will inform veterans that their ratings are final and will provide information on the standard appeals process. If a veteran disagrees with a final decision and chooses to appeal, the appeal is entered into the appellate processing system, and is not reflected in the claims inventory.
VA continues to prioritize disability claims for homeless veterans, those experiencing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing fully developed claims, which officials said is the quickest way for veterans to receive a decision on their compensation claim.
Claims for wounded warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Defense Department through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. Wounded warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in an average of 61 days following their separation from service.
VA’s claims inventory is composed mostly of supplemental claims from veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities, officials said. Regardless of the status of compensation claims, they added, veterans who have served in combat since Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible for five years of free medical care for most conditions from VA.