More than 65,000 veterans’ disability compensation claims have been eliminated during a two-month push to process the oldest claims first, Veterans Affairs Department officials announced Thursday.
The initial effort was aimed at processing claims that have been pending for at least two years, with the next four months set aside for handling claims that are between one and two years old.
As of Wednesday, the 60-day deadline set by VA for the first stage of the push, 97 percent of claims at least two years old were “eliminated from the backlog,” VA officials said in a statement.
Work starts today on claims pending for at least one year while “completing the final batch of the oldest claims,” according to the statement. More than 192,000 pending claims are between one and two years old, VA officials said.
VA officials said about 70 percent of the claims processed so far resulted in disability compensation being approved, a rate that is about what VA experiences for all claims.
“We have made great progress, but know much work remains to be done to eliminate the backlog,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, renewing his pledge to have all claims processed in 125 days by the end of 2015.
Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, declared the effort to process the oldest claims a “success,” but acknowledged it did not result in all old claims being processed.
VA officials said the remaining two-year-old claims will be finalized in the coming days, except for those that are outstanding due to unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant.
VA also has not addressed, because it does not yet know, how many of the claims decisions might result in appeals.
The initiative was designed to assign “provisional” disability ratings to older claims based on available information, with veterans having the right to submit new information within a year to have the decision adjusted. At the end of that year, they have the same appeal rights as all other veterans through administration and legal channels.
Even with this push, VA had more than 840,000 pending claims as of Monday, including almost 755,000 for disability benefits. The compensation claims include 508,127 pending for longer than the 125-day processing goal.
Still, VA officials said the inventory of claims is at its lowest level since August 2011, and that the backlog of claims older than 125 days has been reduced by 10 percent since April, when the initiative began to make the oldest claims a priority.