WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is making substantial progress reducing the backlog of disability claims that has bedeviled it for years, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is confident of reaching his goal to eliminate the long waits by 2015.
"No veteran should have to wait for the benefits and services they've earned through their service in uniform," Shinseki said at a roundtable discussion with reporters. "So here in VA, we've committed to eliminating the claims backlog — and as I say, not just reducing it, not just better managing it, but going after eliminating it."
Overall, the backlog — defined as disability claims pending for more than 125 days — dropped from 611,000 this spring to 401,000 today, a 34 percent reduction highlighted by the secretary. But despite the big drop, the department still has a long way to go to reach the secretary's oft-stated goal to eliminate the backlog by 2015.
According to other recent VA documents, about 58 percent of VA's pending claims are still counted in the backlog. That comes after a year in which the department threw significant amounts of overtime at VA processors so they could target the oldest of the old claims.
Since the VA processes its claims in its network of 56 regional offices, the service individuals receive can vary widely.
The VA has struggled for years to get a handle on the growing number of claims for disability compensation that it receives from recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as those from earlier wars.