A top Veterans Affairs Department official reported Wednesday that VA may have broken the back of its claims backlog, the most vexing problem facing the department in the Post-9/11 era.
“We are at the tipping point,” Thomas Murphy, VA’s compensation service director, told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
In the past 45 days, the total number of pending claims has dropped by 44,000, Murphy said. The number of “backlogged” claims, defined by VA as pending for more than 125 days, has dropped by 74,000 in the same period.
Murphy said that with the progress, especially in converting claims and supporting documents into electronic files, he believes VA will be able to meet the ambitious goal set by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to completely eliminate the claims backlog by the end of 2015.
Murphy’s comments come as Congress and the Obama administration face pressure from veterans advocates who earlier this year launched a campaign against the “Million Claims Backlog.”
The total number of pending claims never reached quite that high. Total claims peaked at 904,770 in early January, of which 826,356 were disability compensation claims. Claims pending longer than VA’s 125-day processing goal accounted for 630,000 of the total claims and almost 587,000 of the compensation claims.
The mountain of claims has gotten smaller after two big efforts, and has steadily declined since early April. VA is almost done with a two-month push to process all disability claims pending for two or more years, and by the end of June will be focusing on processing claims pending for at least one year. Mandatory overtime for claims proccessors has been ordered through the end of the year.
On Monday, VA reported 851,229 total claims pending, with 586,987 older than 125 days. For compensation claims, VA reported 764,211 pending, with 518,820 older than 125 days.
While the pile gets smaller, the wait time remains long. VA reports it is taking an average of 330 to 360 days to complete a claim, depending on how the workload is measured. Wait times are expected to drop once older claims are processed.