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VA Closing in on 1 Million Backlogged Compensation Claims

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Officials from the Veterans Affairs Department reveal that the rising volume of complex claims from new veterans is a major factor in the large backlog of compensation and pension claims, reports Rick Maze for Federal times.

Currently, there are 866,928 backlogged claims at VA’s regional offices. The agency shared that veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are citing an average of over nine disability issues for each claim.  

VA received over 1.3 million claims last year. Agency records also reveal that personnel delegated to process claims received a 97 percent increase from 2001 to 2011.

37 percent of the 866,928 benefits claims pending as of August 18 are brand new files. The remaining percentage were supplemental claims from veterans adding disabilities or verifying that their conditions have escalated.

Out of the backlog, 31 percent were from Iraq and Afghanistan era retirees; 30 percent from Vietnam war veterans; 19 percent from those that served during the Persian Gulf War; and the remainder were from other generations.

In lieu of the increase in claims, VA states that their processing time has decelerated. A claim is completed within a span of 181 days last 2001. But it now takes the agency 257 days.

According to the article, accuracy on claims has also been affected. VA had an 81 percent accuracy rate in 2001, which rose to 90 percent in 2006; but it has now dropped to 86 percent.

Gerald Manar, deputy director of Veterans of Foreign Wars national veteran’s service, said that the increase in disability issues are attributed to the larger deployment of members of the National Guard and reservists.

Since reservists tend to be more senior in age than active-duty troops they are more prone to physical injuries.

He added that the troops also endured multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike those that served in Vietnam, the majority left after serving one year in active duty. Manar explained that more deployments relate to higher exposure to occupational hazards and injury.

Joe Violante, national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans, shared that outreach is also adding to the much higher complexity of claims.   

Violante left the Marine Corps in 1972 and he shared that he almost had no knowledge of the benefits accrued to him back then. However, pre-separation briefings are heightening the awareness of retiring troops about service-connected medical conditions, he said.

Better awareness in benefits is also helping veterans of earlier wars to check if their medical ailments are service-connected, according to Federal Times

Both Violante and Manar believe that the influx of mental health-related issues is not a factor in the higher number of claims from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Violante clarified that although 20 percent of retiring veterans have reported mental health issues; it is just part of the many disabilities they are claiming.  

Manar revealed that it may take over 20 years before they can eradicate their backlog. But, the agency is implementing solutions to the issues, he added.

However, Violante is unconvinced that VA can perform all of its promises within 2015. He believes in the shift in the mindset of VA leadership to resolve the issue but he feels that the culture which permitted the backlog to prosper remains.

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