In March 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) first-time disability claims had a backlog of 611,073 claims. These are first time claims that are awaiting an initial disability rating decision that have been pending for over 125 days. According to Veterans Benefits Administration Reports, as of April 2015, the first time claim backlog has been reduced to 183,190 claims. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims inventory currently exceeds 457,695 pending claims. These are disability compensation and pension claims received by VA, which require a rating decision and includes claims for disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors, and Veterans’ pension benefits, including both original and supplemental claims but does not include claims that are being appealed.
There is currently an additional backlog of nearly 300,000 appeals claims that are being appealed after the VA has rendered its initial decision. Some of these veterans’ claims have been pending for over four years. A Marine Corps Veteran filed a class-action suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs this month, “seeking to force the department to expedite a growing backlog of benefits claims appeals, including his own.” The Department of Veterans Affairs claims to have focused their staff resources on first-time claims, reducing the first-time claims backlog by nearly 70 percent. However, veterans who have pending claims, assert that the VA handled their first-time claims improperly. Just last year, President Obama signed a $16.3 billion VA Reform Bill giving the VA the resources to improve veterans’ care and increase the agency’s resources to reduce the backlog. Additionally, it appears that Congress may give the VA another budget hike next year.
The VA has set a goal to eliminate its first-time claim backlog by the end of 2015. While such a goal may have been set with the best intentions to reduce the first time claims backlog and support our veterans, it is unclear how many first-time claims VA has approved or rejected. However, it is known that the resubmitted appeals of initial claim decisions have risen 17 percent, an all time high for the VA. The class-action suit asks the court to order the VA to make a disability rating and compensation decision within 30 days on every appeal that has been pending for more than a year if the “applicant has a financial or medical hardship.”
However, we believe that all appeals claims regardless of financial or medical hardship must be decided within 30 days after the VA receives the initial or subsequent appeal from the veteran. After all the resources Congress has provided to the VA to improve care and claims processing, there is no reason why our veterans need to wait for an appeals decision by the Board of Veterans Appeals for more than 30 days.