From staff and wire reports
Pacific edition, Saturday, June 20, 2009
WASHINGTON— The Veterans Affairs Department is facing close to 1 million unprocessed claims, appeals and administrative issues. As of June 15, the VA had not processed 722,527 compensation and pension claims, and another 172,493 claims were pending appeal, according to a recent Veterans Benefits Administration report. That’s an increase of 96,125 claims from last year, the report said. In prepared testimony Tuesday, a VBA official said the number of unprocessed claims was less than reported in the VBA report. Michael Walcoff, deputy undersecretary for benefits, told lawmakers the VA had 622,938 unprocessed claims as of the end of May. He did not say how many claims were being appealed. “I’m told the difference between the 722K and the 623K basically has to do with administrative issues which are not ‘claims’ for financial benefits directly but miscellaneous things such as responding to correspondence from a veteran who wants to know if VA has his service file,” said VA spokesman Terry Jemison. “These are not unimportant matters and all the administrative workload is significant to us. It’s just not what we think of as claims for compensation or pension payments.” VA officials are working with the Pentagon under orders from President Barack Obama to create by 2012 a system that will allow the two agencies to electronically exchange records, a process now done manually on paper. Meanwhile, veterans, some of whom were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to endure financial hardship while their claims are processed. They wait more than four months on average for a claim to be processed, and appealing a claim takes a year and a half on average. Adding to the backlog are factors ranging from the complexity of processing mental health-related claims of Iraq veterans, to a change that made it easier for Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to qualify for disability payments. The VA says it’s receiving about 13 percent more claims today than it did a year ago.