VA claims backlog approaches 1 million mark

During the past four months, VA’s backlog of unprocessed disability claims grew by more than 100,000, adding to an already enormous backlog that is now approaching close to one million claims. The Public Record reported in June that VA’s claims backlog, "which includes all benefits claims and all appeals at the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Board of Veterans Appeals at VA, was 803,000 on Jan. 5, 2009. The backlog hit 915,000 on May 4, 2009, a staggering 14-percent increase in four months."

An immediate overhaul of the VA disability claims processing system is the only way out of a fast-growing nationwide backlog of unresolved cases, American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein said after a June 18 congressional hearing.

"As the backlog of claims approaches one million, and the needs of deserving veterans go unmet, VA can wait no longer to institute new and workable policies and procedures," Rehbein said.

Lawmakers heard compelling testimony from American Legion member David Bohan, a Gulf War Army combat veteran from Oregon who suffered service-connected permanent damage to his left foot, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. His disability claim is one of hundreds of thousands caught up in the VA backlog. Bohan’s story is also among those highlighted in an extensive, three-part series of articles that debuted in the June issue of The American Legion Magazine.

The scope of the VA claims backlog problem and some potential solutions were detailed to subcommittee members by Ian dePlanque, assistant director of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

VA’s so-called work-credit system, which awards a claims processor credit in "body-count" fashion for completion of a job even if errors occur, was criticized by the Legion representative. "To count work credit the same whether it is performed properly, or whether details are overlooked, encourages corners to be cut," dePlanque said. "In the past, it has been proposed that VA count work credit when a claim reaches a final decision. In that manner, the encouragement will be to perform every aspect of the claim correctly, as appeals over missed technical details will only hamper the process and create lengthy delays in the claims process."