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VA Makes Headway on Backlog with New Technology

The Department of Veterans Affairs is finally cutting down on its huge backlog of veterans’ benefits claims in response to intense pressure from the media, public and Congress, according to an article in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times. The improvement to an all-too-slow process comes thanks to a new computer system meant to aid the compensation process.

On average, injured veterans have to wait one year to begin receiving benefits. There are more than 751,000 claims pending nationwide, 457,000 of which are for more than 125 days, the VA’s goal for timeliness. Using the new system, which will be fully incorporated by the end of next year, the department hopes to complete all claims within 125 days by the end of 2015.

It’s a lofty and worthwhile goal, but the timeline leaves many injured veterans, who may find it difficult to work, waiting on their benefits checks for much too long. Adam Legg, a veteran quoted in the story, waited 284 days before he started receiving monthly benefits checks of $1,100. During that time, he had two vehicles repossessed and lost his home. Knee injuries he sustained during service made it challenging for him to work.

"When you feel like the VA doesn't care, you feel like the country doesn't care," Legg said. "Somebody willing to give their life for the country, they deserve a little better."

The VA benefits claims process shows signs of improvement, but it’s difficult not to be skeptical. Half of claims are still being filed on paper, and while the new electronic system offers hopes of an improved process, there are still significant obstacles.

Veterans can file claims online, but many fax or mail their information, adding extra steps for VA workers who have to log, sort and enter the paperwork into the computer system. And the system can access some of the necessary records, but other information the VA uses has to be requested and obtained from the Defense Department and other federal agencies. In a blaring example of government waste, the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments gave up early this year on a hundreds of millions of dollars effort to develop a shared system of electronic health records. As of now, transferring records from one department to the other can take up to a year.

POGO has reported on the VA’s accountability issues in the past. In March, evidence was found that VA employees were altering appointment data in their paperwork to make it seem as if veterans were waiting less time for medical care. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs launched a new website, VA Accountability Watch, to make VA oversight more effective.