The Department of Veterans Affairs has reduced a disability claims backlog but more work remains to be done, according to recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the committee chairman, cited “good news about significant progress” in addressing “one of the major challenges confronting the VA.”
He spoke at the outset of a hearing where Undersecretary Allison A. Hickey testified about what she called the VA’s “significant progress” toward modernizing VA systems and eliminating the backlog by 2015.
For the fourth year in a row, more than 1 million claims have been processed by the VA. That success was attributed in large part to new digital technology that replaced a cumbersome paperwork system.
According to the VA,’s latest tally, there were less than 694,000 pending claims, the least since July of 2012. Of that number, 395,000 claims – 57 percent of the total inventory – have been pending longer than 125 days, the department’s own yardstick for the most time it should take to provide a decision on a claim.
The numbers show a marked improvement since the last Senate hearing on the claims backlog. As of that March hearing there were more than 896,000 claims awaiting review. Seventy percent had been pending longer than VA’s goal of 125 days.
“This Committee has worked in a productive and bi-partisan manner to support VA’s efforts while also holding it accountable for meeting its ambitious claims processing goals – 125 days at 98 percent accuracy – by 2015,” Sanders said.
The full committee pressed the Pentagon to help the VA eliminate the backlog. And in addition to oversight hearings, legislation was proposed and is now on the verge of Senate passage to require greater disclosure to Congress by the VA on its backlog reduction efforts.
Sanders said the panel would continue to work with the VA to identify workable, long-term solutions and remain aggressive in closely monitoring the backlog to ensure progress toward its elimination continues. The VA still has a long way to go in creating a truly electronic claims processing system that doesn’t rely on the scanning of millions of pieces of paper, Sanders said. He also said the VA must make sure that its push for processing more claims online does not inadvertently create new problems for elderly veterans or those living in rural areas with limited Internet access.