USA — Veterans Affairs Works to Reduce Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON — The Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment is mak­ing great strides in its efforts to reduce the back­log of vet­er­ans’ claims, VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki today told thou­sands of vet­er­ans attend­ing the 92nd Annu­al Amer­i­can Legion Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Mil­wau­kee.

“We intend to break the back of the back­log this year,” Shin­se­ki said. 

The aver­age time tak­en to process claims in VA is about 160 days. But by the end of the year no claim will take longer than 125 days, Shin­se­ki said. VA does­n’t plan to stop once the claims are processed by that mark, he added. 

“Our goal is not an aver­age,” Shin­se­ki said. “It’s not just going to be faster; also bet­ter and more accu­rate. There’s noth­ing mag­i­cal about 125 days, espe­cial­ly because when we get there, we’ll be look­ing at anoth­er target.” 

VA received more than 1 mil­lion claims in 2009 for the first time in the department’s 80-year his­to­ry. Dis­abil­i­ty claims for VA increased 75 per­cent between 2000 and 2010. That’s an aver­age of near­ly 100,000 new claims each month, with no signs of slow­ing down, the sec­re­tary said. 

VA health care pro­fes­sion­als expect to treat and pro­vide care for more than 6.1 mil­lion vet­er­ans in 2011, Shin­se­ki said, includ­ing near­ly half-a-mil­lion Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. 

In order to meet those vet­er­ans’ needs, he said, VA hired more than 3,500 claims work­ers this year in the Vet­er­ans Ben­e­fits Admin­is­tra­tion. VA also invest­ed more than $130 mil­lion toward estab­lish­ing a paper­less claims process, which, Shin­se­ki said, will be ready in 2012. 

More than $110 mil­lion this year, he added, was invest­ed in tele-health tech­nol­o­gy, which includes tech­nol­o­gy for the vir­tu­al life­time elec­tron­ic records sys­tem. VA expects to spend $163 mil­lion on these pro­grams next year, Shin­se­ki said. 

“We see this as the way to link [the Defense Depart­ment] and VA in a seam­less tran­si­tion as young­sters take off the uni­form,” he said. 

Among VA’s accom­plish­ments this year, Shin­se­ki not­ed improved care for vet­er­ans who suf­fer from Agent Orange- and Gulf War-relat­ed ill­ness­es. Three new dis­eases were deter­mined to be con­nect­ed to Agent Orange, while nine new dis­eases were includ­ed in the Gulf War ill­ness group, he said. 

Con­gress last year appro­pri­at­ed $13.4 bil­lion to begin ben­e­fits pay­ments for some 2,000 vet­er­ans expect­ed to claim Agent Orange-relat­ed diseases. 

“It was the right deci­sion,” Shin­se­ki said, “and the pres­i­dent and I are proud to final­ly pro­vide this group of vet­er­ans, our Viet­nam [War] vet­er­ans, the care and ben­e­fits they’ve long deserved.” 

Also, the claims process is now eas­i­er for those affect­ed by post-trau­mat­ic stress, Shin­se­ki added. Vet­er­ans no longer have to pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion of the event that may have caused their stress, he said. 

“This deci­sion ends decades of focus­ing on doc­u­ment­ing the stres­sor event,” Shin­se­ki said. “Instead, we’re stream­lin­ing the deliv­ery of med­ical care and ben­e­fits for vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing from ver­i­fi­able PTS from combat. 

“This is not a gen­er­a­tional issue,” he con­tin­ued. “This is not Iraq or Afghanistan; it is all who have served in combat.” 

VA boost­ed its staff of men­tal health providers by 20,000 since Oba­ma took office, Shin­se­ki said. 

“Our pri­or­i­ty here is to diag­nose, treat and cure,” he con­tin­ued. “If cure is not pos­si­ble, then diag­nose, treat and care will be the standard.” 

Dur­ing his address, Shin­se­ki also not­ed VA’s work to end home­less­ness among vet­er­ans by 2015. Since 2004, VA has reduced the num­ber of home­less vet­er­ans by 90,000. At least 107,000 vet­er­ans remain on the streets today. 

Shin­se­ki also empha­sized the impor­tance of good fis­cal stew­ard­ship. He high­light­ed VA’s suc­cess­es and improve­ments under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s administration. 

Oba­ma pro­posed $25 bil­lion in bud­get increas­es for the VA since 2009. Such sup­port “under­scores the president’s com­mit­ment to trans­form­ing VA and fix­ing per­sis­tent prob­lems that have plagued this depart­ment for decades,” Shin­se­ki said. 

The pres­i­dent pro­posed $125 bil­lion for VA’s fis­cal 2011 bud­get, Shin­se­ki said, which will focus pri­mar­i­ly on the end­ing the claims back­log and homelessness. 

VA must be with­out hes­i­ta­tion an advo­cate for vet­er­ans,” Shin­se­ki said. “This is part of a cul­ture change that’s under way. We need to make per­ma­nent the gains of the past 19 months. 

“There will always be unfin­ished work,” he added. “That’s the nature of the mis­sion, but for all of us, it is to con­tin­ue to estab­lish pri­or­i­ties, fight for resources and take care of vet­er­ans. That’s what we intend to do.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →