The Hill Blog reported that 12 years ago the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) promised to eliminate all VA disability claims; however, a decade and two wars later have only exacerbated the problem. Despite a trend that started earlier this year that has seen the backlog shrink, as of September 3, 2013 there are still 476,988 Veterans Affairs disability claims in backlog and a total of 769,974 claims pending in the VA. What difference has a decade made?
The Los Angeles Times reported that a new computer system has been introduced at the VA office in Oakland, Calif., that intends to speed up the disability benefits process for wounded veterans. The brand new software system took three years to build and test and is still not completely functional. Therefore, in Oakland half of the disability claims are still being processed by hand.
Overtime, Lots of Mandatory Overtime
In the meantime, according to the source, the VA has hired more claims processors and assigned overtime hours to several workers to help reduce backlog. The new computer system and increased manpower helped the Oakland VA office process more than 95 percent of the claims that had been pending for two years or longer. Despite that progress, many remain skeptical that the goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015 is achievable.
“The backlog is now declining,” VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said at a national conference, according to The LA Times. “We are somewhat behind where we predicted and would have wanted to be, but that percentage will shift downwards quickly.”
Veterans Still Frustrated
The long wait continues to frustrate veterans as they await their disability compensation. The Washington Post noted that the high profile of the backlog may have may have created a less well known problem. Fatigued workers under enormous pressure have done two things. Complicated cases may take a day or more to assess, so workers under scrutiny for the number of claims they process have put aside the difficult claims to focus on simpler claims that can be moved quickly.
The focus on speed has also created more appeals, reports the Post. The wait for appeals is growing. Veterans who are fighting for more money from the government are waiting longer, some believe because resources have been taken from the appeals process to supplement the initial claims process. According to the source, more than 250,000 veterans have filed appeals after receiving their initial compensation.
How long are these veterans waiting for an appeal decision? Sometimes it can take up to four years for a new ruling on disability claims. To address this backlog, the Board of Appeals for Veterans Claims recently hired 100 lawyers to speed up the filing process for appeals.
“I just want to be treated with dignity and respect, and a lot of the time I didn’t get that from VA,” Matthew Goldberg, a retired soldier told the Washington Post. Goldberg suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and back problems however, he says he was not properly compensated by the government.
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