Progress in Processing Initial Applications for VA Benefits
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A recent Washington Post article shows signs of progress in VA’s efforts to reduce the more than 800,000 claim backlog. Director Thomas Murphy reports that “the number of pending cases has decreased by 74,000 over the past 45 days.” VA has pledged to complete all cases that have been pending for more than 125 days by the end of 2015. NBC News has reported that VA officials are indicating that St. Paul, Minnesota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Providence, Rhode Island have already achieved this goal. This represents 3 of VA’s 56 Regional Offices. However, wait times at 12 VA Regional Offices still exceed 400 days on average.
While these reports may provide some hope to the thousands of veteran’s still waiting for their claims to be processed, the elimination of the backlog at the VA Regional Office level may be creating delays at the appeals level. In 2012, the Board of Veterans Appeals handled 49, 600 claims. In the first 6 months of this year, the Board has already received 37,000 claims. This number could reach 100,000 within the next 4 years. Already veteran’s are experiencing wait times in excess of 1,000 days from the time an appeal is submitted to the Regional Office to the time a decision is issued by the Board of Veteran’s Appeals. Efforts to reduce VA’s backlog at the local level does not currently include efforts to reduce the wait time for veterans who appeal Regional Office decisions, which is likely to continue growing as VA issues decisions on the more than 800,000 pending claims.
Board members hope that VA’s transition to electronic records will help to reduce this wait time. In the meantime, Laura Eskenazi, the principal deputy vice chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals, reports that they have already begun hiring new attorneys to handle wave of new appeals expected as VA continues to process the backlogged claims.