Despite Rhetoric, VA Claims Backlog Continues to Ebb

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In a letter to President Obama on July 19, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas relayed his concerns about the disability claims backlog facing the Department of Veterans Affairs.  “The status quo at the VA is unacceptable,” he wrote, “and it cannot be allowed to continue.”

As with many other critics of VA—political and otherwise—Senator Cornyn’s information is considerably outdated. In reality, the VA backlog has dropped steeply—by more than 15%—since March. By arguing “the status quo is unacceptable” (and that “it cannot be allowed to continue”), Senator Cornyn and others are essentially arguing against the progress of the last four months.

Let’s take a look at the latest numbers.

backlog_7_22

Friedman

As the chart makes clear, if one opposes rapid progress toward the goal, then one might, in fact, believe “the status quo is unacceptable” and must not “be allowed to continue.”  Because this point is no longer in contention: the VA backlog is—and has been—headed in the right direction.

The total number of backlogged claims (those in the system longer than 125 days) has now fallen to 515,000—the lowest point since fall 2011. The total inventory of claims recently dropped below 800,000 for the first time in more than two years. It now stands at just over 793,000, down from a high of 883,000 claims one year ago.

As VA’s electronic-claims processing system is further integrated into all regional processing offices throughout 2013, the rate of decline will likely continue. There will be hiccups and uneven progress along the way, but as I wrote in June, the worst—which happened for very specific reasons—is now over.

Therefore, those wanting to assist the situation should focus on helping VA educate veterans about navigating the new claims process as it comes online.

For this reason, continued calls for commissions and “idea reports” on ending the VA backlog are unhelpful.

In fact, these demands for greater attention on the topic indicate one of two things: the first possibility is that proponents of commissions and petitions still fail to grasp that driving any substantive change within the Department literally takes years.  Secretary Shinseki made this point at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual conference on Tuesday:

We’ve said all along it would take time to solve this correctly. And we are not going to leave this for another secretary and president to wrestle with. We are on track to eliminate the backlog in 2015. We started out four years ago with a plan, and we’ve stayed with it.

If organizations and elected officials are now ignoring this fact, then they would do well to listen to Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He recently said commissions would “likely not help solve the problem” and would, in fact, “slow down the progress you’re making.”

The second possibility is that politicians and advocates—seeing the progress—are looking to quickly propose shallow solutions to the VA backlog so as to position themselves to take credit once it’s finally eliminated. Hopefully, that’s not the case.

Either way, this is indisputable: the VA backlog is falling because the department began implementing a long-term plan to end it in 2010. As VA does its part, elected leaders and veteran organizations should do theirs. And that means educating veterans about the claims process—not focusing on wasteful commissions and letters to the President.

Brandon Friedman is a vice president at FleishmanHillard in Washington, D.C. and the author of The War I Always Wanted. From 2009 to 2012, he worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow him on Twitter at @BFriedmanDC.

7 comments
KiaGunter
KiaGunter

Complete BS! Attention VETS the VA is waiting for you to either 1) die of your illness 2) get tired of writing and calling them or 3) both 1 and 2! It is not disappearing, people are dying and the claims are therefore shelved. The database system the VA has was never meant to hold the magnitude of claims, despite the number of individuals enlisting and commissioning for the military each and every year. It is an absolute travesty the amount of time Vets claims take and the disrespect from the employees. They just shuffle the claims from one desk to another, because the claims are too complicated and the training/education isnt there.  The odd ball thing about it is, VA has a number of Vets that work for them.....

jakkihall79
jakkihall79

Claims filed after Nov 30, 2012 are slowly moving deeper into backlog. Including those which have had their C&P exams. 210 days and counting. Simple dependency claims are not even being touched. Don't get me started on claims with incorrect file dates because someone in VA "lost" paperwork or their too lazy to pickup the phone to resolve simple discrepancies, such as birth dates, dependent school start dates, etc. Some of which is in the veteran's records, such as DEERS, personnel records, medical records. Which VA personnel have quick access to. I could go on and on. Okay one more, denying GWI presumptive illness, which the veteran clearly meets. Backlog vs Blackhole, I can't tell the difference. Okay, I'm done.

artdav
artdav

The backlog is not disappearing, it's simply being differed to next year.  the claims that the VA has cleared were divided into two groups, one for claims that had enough evidence to be treated as a typical claim and the others were processed based on the information the VA had at the time. On these claims they are given a "provisional rating."

Veterans who receive a provisional rating are not allowed to appeal these claims for a year, to give the VA more time  to find evidence for their claim. so while the VA is taking it's time the veteran is stuck waiting yet again.

Meanwhile during this 60 day period of clearing the claims that were over two years old, the VA stopped working on claims that were in the appeal process.  So now the same veteran who was stuck in the same backlog for over two years is going to be put into an ever growing appeal backlog, which already takes anywhere 3-5 years to process!


JimStarowicz
JimStarowicz

How does a Country HONOR It's Fallen, by Their Own 'Sacrifice' in Taking Care of the Brothers and Sisters They Served With!!
The Whole Country Served, Not Just The Many Caring Groups, with handfuls of members and volunteers, who have to fight for funding when successful and not getting grants, Within!!

"If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

RM: "We got a huge round of tax cuts in this country a few weeks before9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway.
How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it was free?
Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about it, civilians. Go about your business." 23 May 2013

“Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

WHY? GOOD QUESTION THOSE SERVED SHOULD ANSWER!

Prior too this present Executive and Veterans Administrations and just touching on the problems:

Army Times Oct. 16, 2008 - VA claims found in piles to be shredded

CNN iReport October 25, 2008 - House Vets' Committee To Probe VA Shredder Scandal

Tampa Bay Times Oct 27, 2008 - Hundreds of VA documents improperly shredded, review finds {Tampa Bay Times search page and series of articles}

CBS News February 11, 2009 - Veterans' Claims Found in Shredder Bins

And more disturbing in relation to even before and through the early years of the Afghanistan, quickly abandoned missions of, and Iraq occupations, this:

ProPublica and The Seattle Times Nov. 9, 2012 - Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
"DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War."

Add in the issues of finally recognizing in War Theater and more Veterans, by this Veterans Administration and the Executive Administrations Cabinet, what the Country choose to ignore from our previous decades and wars of: The devastating effects on Test Vets and from PTS, Agent Orange, Homelessness, more recent the Desert Storm troops Gulf War Illnesses, Gulf War Exposures with the very recent affects from In-Theater Burn Pits and oh so so much more! Tens of Thousands of Veterans' that have been long ignored and maligned by previous VA's and the whole Country and through their representatives!

These present wars have yet to be paid for! Rubber stamping and rapid deficits rising started before 9/11 and continued with same for the wars. But especially in the early some six years of extremely little being added to the Veterans Administration budgets by those Congresses, and since obstructed by same war rubber stampers, as to the long term results of War, DeJa-Vu all over again.

"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." - Abraham Lincoln

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

AnonymousVAemployee
AnonymousVAemployee

@artdav Ony about 5% of those two year old claims were decided provisionaly. And while assigning those provisional decisions - the Veteran recieves what ever money the VA can pay for which is on par with the average of claims decided "traditionally", and Veterans have a whole year to send in any evidence towards their case, which legally the VA is bound to provide appeal rights only after a year, -as per congressional decisions. They are not simply "deferred" - that is counter to the whole point of it! I process claims at the VA and work very hard - including my mandatory overtime in order to better help veterans- which includes me. Oh - and appeals work has continued and not put on hold either - innacurrate! Please don't contuinue to be negative and inacurrate about the hard work me and my coworkers do, and do not misinform people.

KiaGunter
KiaGunter

Look at the statistics and the astounding numbers of Vets out there with the same story. I am sure not every employee is inept. However the majority of them are. Simple mistakes are made, and well trained employees like yourself fix the mistakes for us. There are only a handful of you out there unfortunately... 

But the chance of you getting that one person is slim to none. My personal experience, I could never get through to speak with anyone unless my full time job was to contact the VA. I called incessantly only to be told we are backlogged or something they thought was missing no longer is however my claim would go to bottom of the pack because someone pulled it out erroneously. This was only a GI BIll - 9/11 claim. Same classes, no failing grades, just awaiting for VA to verify my enrollment, after school sent in their verification. Complete and utter nonsense. Vets are angry because the VA is not prepared to take on the amount of veterans separating and retiring. People have bills to pay and we ought to be able to depend on that money because we earned it. It isnt charity, vets are due and owed just that.

artdav
artdav

@AnonymousVAemployee @artdav I also work in the field, and have had raters tell me that the 5% is a joke. i see the decision coming in, and there is a hell of a lot more provisional claims coming in than 5%... In my region appeals were stopped to work on the backlog  .... i'm not saying the the employees are not doing their job, i actually find that they are more than helpful. The problem lies in the process.


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