By JAMES DAO
Published: November 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The official responsible for the problem-plagued disability compensation system at the Department of Veterans Affairs will resign early next year, the department announced Friday. Patrick W. Dunne, under secretary of veterans affairs in charge of benefits administration, will resign early next year. The official, Under Secretary Patrick W. Dunne, has run the Veterans Benefits Administration since 2006, a period in which the agency has been swamped by claims not only from wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans but also aging Vietnam veterans. The rise in the backlog of unprocessed claims has fueled bitter complaints from members of Congress and veterans’ advocates. The benefits administration also came under fire this year when it was late issuing payments to colleges and students under the new G.I. Bill. In response, Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, ordered offices to open on a Saturday to make emergency payments to students. In announcing Mr. Dunne’s resignation, Mr. Shinseki said: “Pat Dunne has guided the Veterans Benefits Administration through a number of challenges during his tenure as under secretary. I applaud his service and loyalty to our team and thank him for his unfailing commitment to our nation’s veterans.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Shinseki, Katie Roberts, denied suggestions by veterans’ advocates that Mr. Dunne, a retired Navy rear admiral, had been forced out. “He served the department well,” Ms. Roberts said. Veterans’ advocates say the benefits administration has been slow to modernize. Revamping the department’s outdated computer technology, along with reducing the claims backlog, is one of Mr. Shinseki’s top priorities. “Veterans wait an average of six months for an initial answer on a disability claim and another four to five years while they wait for appeals,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. Mr. Sullivan’s group estimates that the backlog is close to one million claims, though the department says a more accurate measure places it at closer to half a million.