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VA Works to Break Disability Claims Backlog

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 30, 2011 – Former Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tyrone Allen is part of a growing legion within the Veterans Affairs Department striving to make good on VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s pledge to “break the back of the claims backlog.”

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Former Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tyrone Allen, a disabled veteran participating in the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., is a Veterans Affairs Department claims assistant helping VA to resolve its disability claims backlog. DOD photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Allen understands firsthand the frustrations many veterans feel as they wait for VA to adjudicate their disability benefits claims. An electrician’s mate aboard USS Wasp as it operated off the Djibouti coast in 2004, he suffered a cracked skull, traumatic brain injury and compressed spine when a hatch came crashing down on his head.

The VA claims process took far too long, Allen said, noting that he’s still awaiting adjustments as his back condition worsens.

But today, Allen is part of VA’s fix -– he’s a VA claims assistant working at the Huntington VA Medical Center in West Virginia. He’s among a legion of more than 3,500 new employees VA has hired to expedite claims processing as it introduces other systemic improvements.

“It is really unacceptable that the backlog is as big as it is and it takes as long as it does for veterans to receive their claims,” Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould said during an interview here with American Forces Press Service.

VA’s goal by 2015, he said, is for veterans to wait no more than 125 days for a decision on a claim, with a 98 percent accuracy rate.

Gould spoke about the claims process while participating in the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, an annual event that this year brought together more than 350 disabled veterans, including Allen.

VA completed 977,000 claims in 2009, but took in, for the first time, more than a million new ones. In 2010, VA completed 1 million claims, but received 1.2 million new ones. By the end of 2011, officials expect to receive 1.45 million claims –- a double-digit increase over the number of claims received in 2000.

Gould attributed many of the new claims to the new wave of combat veterans with complex medical issues just entering the VA system. However, he acknowledged, 65 percent were resubmissions from veterans already in it.

“We have been experiencing a growth in new claims, even as our overall production has been increasing,” he said.

So to reach its goal, VA has attacked the challenge on three fronts, Gould explained.

The first involves people: hiring new claims processors and improving the way the VA trains them.

But “merely hiring more people to handle claims won’t let us get ahead of the incoming surge, let alone cleave the size of the backlog,” Shinseki has often said.

So VA is working to improve its systems and automate as quickly as possible. Its second major focus in reducing the backlog involves “reinvesting and re-engineering the business process we use to complete the claims,” Gould said. This includes accepting online applications for initial disability benefits, initiating an innovation competition and launching more than 30 pilot programs and initiatives to identify best practices.

Finally, VA is investing in new technology to support these efforts. Gould said he’s particularly excited about one recent accomplishment, the result of a pilot program for the paperless Veterans Benefits Management System that VA plans to deploy in fiscal 2012.

“We completed our first all-electronic claim in just 47 days,” Gould said of the pilot that’s being conducted in Rhode Island. And although the claim involved was relatively simple and straightforward, Gould called entirely automated processing capability it proved a major step toward VA’s goals.

VA’s fiscal 2012 budget request includes $2 billion to support these claims-processing initiatives, up 19.5 percent over fiscal 2010.

“So we are very optimistic that we can achieve our goal of no claim taking longer than 125 days with 98 percent quality,” he said. “And right now, we are just not meeting either of those standards.”

Gould said he’s confident VA is on the right track in reaching Shinseki’s goals to end the claims backlog by 2014. “We think we can get there,” he said. “It is something we have got to fix together.”

Allen said he’s proud of the role he’s personally playing in helping to reach these goals -- scheduling hearings, contacting veterans and helping to process their applications.

“I’m helping to make sure veterans get what they need, and that when they apply for something, everything goes through without delay,” he said. “I have been where they are, so I understand the importance of trying to make things happen as speedy as possible.”


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W. Scott Gould

Related Sites:
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Department of Veterans Affairs

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Veterans Affairs Secretary W. Scott Gould speaks at opening ceremonies for the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., March 27, 2011. Gould said VA is tackling its disability claims backlog on three fronts, with a goal of eliminating it entirely by 2014. VA photo by Jeff Bowen  
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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

4/10/2011 6:20:03 AM
This is in response to Burnnette Dock 3/31/2011 I was also notified there was no record I had served "on the ground" in Viet Nam. I searched through old medal awards and found official orders indicating I had served "on the ground". Suggest you check those old boxes in the attic they may have what you need. I forwarded a copy of my orders and that did the trick. On a second note if you ever had any medical treatment while in country there ahould be an entry in your service medical file. You may have to point this out as it didn't seem to help my case, then again I found orders that helped me. Good luck
- Jack Scales, Buford, GA

4/9/2011 1:40:56 PM
VA Claims Backlog has increased from 200,000 to 450,000 - read more at: http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/va-must-restructure-to and http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/04/gannett-benefits-critics-rip-va-for-claims-backlog-040611/
- Helena Edwards, New York

4/2/2011 8:39:20 PM
I have completed my VA Dusability Physicals, Of course 2 of them were scheduled after I retired. I hope this is the reason why it has not moved out of stage 1. I, along with other Vets/Retirees who received injuries during the Service to our country are waiting, both for financial assistance and job assistace. What has to happen to get these through the system?
- Andrew Heil, Illinois

3/31/2011 8:20:47 PM
I was told that my claim should take no longer than 6 month's since it's a simple claim. Diabetes, and Ischemic heart disease. It's been over 6 month's already so still waiting.
- Jon, Tucson

3/31/2011 7:35:59 PM
So that means that my current claim which has been at the rating board SINCE November ought to be decided by 2015?

3/31/2011 7:24:35 PM
When the VA speaks about its progress, its ambitions, and progression, it speaks of those locations that have become veteran friendly. But what it doesn't tell the public that both corruption in claims processing, as well as corrupt leadership still exist within some locations. The Columbia Regional office, and especially its senior leadership in the view of some of its own employees are not only hurting veterans by hiding evidence, removing evidence, but in their employees views involved in the southern Jim crow mentality , of which discrimination is the act, and discriminatory practices are the determining factors in claims processing.
- maurice scott, columbia, sc

3/31/2011 7:10:23 PM
I had surgery for a service connected disability. I applied for a paragraph 30, temporary 100% rating while in convalescence status to the St. Petersburg RO. My surgery was on December 22, 2010 I submitted all surgery reports and relavent medical evidence for this claim a week after my surgery to St. Petersburg RO. My claim was processed and entered into the decision phase on January 13, 2011. The VA posts the national averages on claims to be processed will take 16-24 days. It has been 73 days since entering the only the decision phase, waiting to be rated. Perhaps they should rescind the "national average" estimate to avoid not meeting it. In my case, I feel there is nothing to hold up a rating given all evidence was provided without any doubt to the surgery being performed. The St. Petersburg RO must do a better job at processing claims that are so simple if they are to ever catch up with the volume of claims they receive. Thank you.
- Matt LeMaster, Orlando, FL

3/31/2011 6:56:51 PM
You people have been "Working to Break Disability Claims Backlog" since 2005! Get the lead out and MOVE! Jeez!
- Ryan, Chambersburg, Pa

3/31/2011 6:46:17 PM
The VA can claim to "speed" up the process all day long, but the reality of it is that they aren't getting the job done. I was denied in 2006. I refiled in June 2010 - handed them all the documentation they needed and it's still in "pending" process right now. They are proudly boasting that the process only takes 125 days.... yeah right..... I can't work so my family needs that that money right now. Everytime I go up to the VA to ask about my claim, they are the rudest people i've ever encountered!
- D Hamilton Kinard, Columbia, sc

3/31/2011 6:29:54 PM
I am my Father's caregiver, he suffers from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Cronic COPD, and congestive heart failure...dementia. He is in no capacity able to care for himself, I am trying to keep him home as long as possible. Anyway, I accidentally found out about his "Psychosis" diagnosis when I enrolled him in the VA program in Hampton, VA for his health care. 0% compensation, ever collected since late 50's, early 60's! So I filed a claim in 2009, waited almost a year for them to deny it, saying his dementia wasn't service related. Soooo, I refiled for non-service benefits and the Aid and Attendance Program; it's in his medical records?...I'm still waiting since October 2010...I don't know where to go now. Any help or direction? Thanks
- Tess, Portsmouth, Virginia

3/31/2011 5:54:55 PM
Does this include the Nemher cases?????
- Danette, MS

3/31/2011 8:56:05 AM
How does this affect claims that have been denied and attempted to be reopened because evidence of active duty in required locations are not found in a veterans file or on thier DD214
- Bunnette Dock, Atlanta, GA

3/31/2011 8:13:21 AM
Way to go Vet! Open a Claims Assistant position helping Vets in Colorado Springs on a part-time basis in Colorado Springs and watch me jump at it. I am a 40% rated, and nothing would please me more. Tom.
- Tom Weiss, Colorado Springs

3/30/2011 8:51:19 PM
My comment is about how St.Pete, RO has a habit of rewording BVA Decisions to meet their own agenda while evaluating claims such as mine for a Decision April 29,1999. I have since that time have argued their wrong doing, but have landed on deaf ears. I know I am entitled to 100% for GERD/Hiatia Hernia, not one Hernia,but two that involved surgery. Now since December 2,2010 of having a C.P.,stating I am Disabled by my Service Connected Disablities,and a Social Security Decision (April 1994)using all V.A. Medical Records, I to this day have not recieved the 100% Entitlement I am due. I am PISSED. Where is the benefits so dearly due to me? I am sick and tire of reading and hearing of other Veterans receiving their 100% rating's, and I have not gotten mine. Is this only for the Caucasions and Hispanics, or V.A. Benefits for all who served.
- Ronnie Moseley, Winter Park, Florida 32792

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