VA officials still insist the 630,000 disability claims waiting to be processed will be eliminated by 2015. But so far, numbers are headed in the wrong direction and House Veterans Affairs Committee members are losing patience.
Under intense congressional and media pressure, VA has moved aggressively to eliminate its backlog of new claims for disability benefits. But veterans who appeal VA’s decisions are still waiting years, on average.
The Veterans Affairs Department reduced the number of pending disability claims by 267,000 over the last year. Veterans are also waiting 119 days less than they did a year ago for their claims to be processed.
The Department of Veterans Affairs believes it is on track to end its disability claims backlog by 2015. It’s an uphill fight, considering that more than half of its claims have been waiting for at least four months, and appeals take an average of more than two years.
The Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review finds a way to tackle an overwhelming backlog of disability appeals cases. The data-driven training program from the agency’s Office of Appellate Operations helps officers with the critical thinking skills they need to decide cases more efficiently. Administrative Law Judges now earn better results on 35 out of 84 performance metrics. Teresa Pfender, an appeals officer at SSA’s Office of Appellate Operations, is now on detail as a senior policy advisor to the Social Security Advisory Board. She tells In Depth with Francis Rose about leading ODAR’s training program, which won a W. Edwards Deming Award for the second time.
The director of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Allison Hickey, is resigning, after four years as undersecretary with the department.
Employees who handle veterans benefits claims and the disability claims backlog, as well as some cybersecurity professionals, are among the Veterans Affairs Department’s additional hiring freeze exemptions. VA Secretary David Shulkin announced more exemptions in a March 13 memo to staff.