Veterans group: VA needs to battle backlog of 400,000 disability claims

A backlog of 400,000 veterans’ disability claims has been waiting for longer than four months to be processed, according the veterans group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. 

The backlog decreased by 36.5 percent between March and December 2013 due to initiatives by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, but it still represents more than half of the 680,000 total disability claims currently being processed, the IAVA said in a new report. 

"[Shinseki] has been incredibly proactive," said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer, during a roundtable on Monday. "But sucking less is not the goal here." 

According to the report, titled "The Battle to End the VA Backlog," more than 2.6 million service members have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf since Sept. 11, 2001. 

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51,716 have been wounded in action, not including the estimated 20 percent who have returned home with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, or those who will see chronic injuries or illnesses develop, the report said.

The number of pending claims have outpaced those completed since 2001 due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also due to older veterans submitting claims for injuries revealed by age, such as Agent Orange exposure, said the report. 

The backlog in disability claims processing is also due in part to an outdated, paper-based system used by the Veterans Affairs Department, as well as “incredibly long wait times and dramatic variations in performance across different VA regional offices,” said the report. 

“While there has been some progress to decrease the backlog, there is nothing to support which of these initiatives are working and which are not, nor is there evidence of planning beyond FY 2015,” the IAVA said in a statement accompanying the report. 

“The backlog may end in FY 2015, but the disability compensation process will continue. If the VA does not learn from its mistakes, it is bound to repeat them.”

—This report was first published at 12:00 p.m. and was last updated at 3:35 p.m.