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St. Petersburg VA says oldest backlog of disability claims cleared

Officials in the regional St. Petersburg office of the Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday they had decided most of the veteran disability claims in the state — about 2,126 — that were more than two years old.

The VA launched a national campaign in April to expedite decisions in all claims over a year old as Congress and veterans groups criticized the agency for the long backlog of claims. So far, the VA said it has resolved 97 percent of claims nationally that are more than two years old, or more than 65,000 claims.

The VA's regional office in St. Petersburg said it would now be working to resolve claims more than a year old.

"Over the past two months, VA has been dedicated to providing earned benefits to the veterans who have waited the longest," Kerrie Witty, director of VA's St. Petersburg regional office, said in a statement. "I'm proud of our employees, who have been working long hours on this effort."

Regional VA officials in St. Petersburg also helped other regions tackle their own backlogs, including 943 claims from the state of Washington, the regional office said.

The VA said some of the delays were caused by veterans unavailable for a required medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas. Many veterans have long argued the blame for delays lies with the VA.

The VA earlier this year required claims agents to work overtime to alleviate the backlog. The agency said its goal by the end of 2015 is to decide claims within 125 days.

The Associated Press reported this week that the VA had 833,130 claims with two-thirds, or 547,922, pending more than 125 days.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

St. Petersburg VA says oldest backlog of disability claims cleared 06/28/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 11:48pm]

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