About 32,000 veterans’ disability claims were delayed — some as long as five years — due to a technical flaw in federal filing systems, Veterans Affairs officials acknowledged this week.

The total represents only a small fraction of the more than 7 million claims filed since the start of 2018, but has left some individuals waiting for years for answers on cases that are only just now being processed. Leaders called the problem an embarrassing oversight and have promised that veterans will be awarded back pay once their files are handled.

“We have identified all of the veterans who were impacted by this issue, started processing their claims, and begun notifying them of this delay via mail,” VA officials said in a statement. “We are processing these claims with the utmost urgency.”

“We deeply apologize to these veterans for the delay, and we will ensure they receive the benefits they’ve earned as quickly as possible. We will also continue to review our technology, processes, and systems to prevent such technical issues from impacting veterans in the future.”

The delayed claims — first discovered by staffers in February, but only recently resolved — are the latest technology misstep for a department already under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and advocates for ongoing challenges with its new electronic health records system, a 10-year, $16-billion project that has been repeatedly stalled because of software problems.

In this situation, the 32,000 delayed disability compensation claims filed through online systems were not properly routed to processing staffers, leaving the cases untouched. Department officials said the problems began as early as 2018 but could not give the average wait time for each veteran or give a breakdown of when the delayed cases were submitted.

VA staffers blamed the switch from “legacy claims processing systems” to the VA.gov portal for the error. They said the problems have now been resolved so that other cases are not similarly lost in the department’s systems.

Department leaders could not say how many of the claims affected were first-time submissions versus supplemental filings looking to increase existing disability payouts. The disability claims support can range from a few hundred dollars a month to more than $4,000.

If veterans whose claims were filed in 2018 fall into the latter category, they could receive more than $240,000 in back pay, under current VA rules.

Veterans affairs officials said all of the approximately 32,000 delayed claims – first reported by Military.com – are now being processed, but no time frame has been given for when they may be completed.

The department already has a backlog of about 274,000 first-time disability cases pending for more than four months. That number was as low as 70,000 before the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in America. Officials said they don’t expect to return to those lower levels until sometime in 2024.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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