Holding the Government Accountable

Veterans Affairs Announces Plan to Reduce Claims Backlog

After making headlines, and even The Daily Show, for its notoriously long backlog of veterans compensation claims, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it will begin bumping toward the head of the line veterans who have been waiting a year or more.

“Too many Veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in the press release announcing the plan. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for Veterans who have waited the longest.”

The VA said it will begin making “provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, which will allow Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible.”

These provisional decisions will be based on all the available evidence the VA has regarding each veteran. After the provisional decision is made—whether the decision was to approve or deny—veterans will have up to a year to provide additional evidence to support their claim, and then a final decision will be made. If this results in an increase in compensation, “benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed,” according to the VA.

Focusing resources on the oldest claims will likely mean new claims will take longer to process, and other factors will still be considered in prioritizing claims, such as a veteran being homeless, a former prisoner of war, or a Medal of Honor recipient.

The VA cautioned that its already long average length of time to complete a claim—currently 286 days—will rise “significantly in the near term because of the number of old claims that will be completed.” Over time, as the backlog of oldest claims is cleared and more of the incoming claims are processed electronically, VA’s average time to complete claims will significantly improve, the Department said.

Benjamin Krause, a veteran and founder of DisabledVeterans.org, applauded the VA’s move to grant provisional decisions, something he and other veterans’ advocates have been fighting to get for years.

“The Department’s leaders had to make an impact immediately to help these veterans from being swallowed into the black hole that is the VA,” Krause said. “We do not need another couple decades like the ones that followed the Vietnam War. I think they made the right choice.”