As VA works to eliminate one backlog, one more might emerge

By Jared Serbu Over the past several months, the Department of Veterans Affairs has taken several steps to dig out of a large backlog of disability claims, including imposing mandatory overtime for its employees and a new strategy to tackle the oldest claims first. But VA’s congressional overseers say it appears the increased attention to new claims is forcing another critical part of the department’s workload, the process by which veterans appeal VA’s denial of their original claims, to take a backseat, and creating a new backlog that Congress can’t reliably track. The complex, multi-step process involved in handling appeals by veterans who believe they were wrongfully denied benefits has seen a notable workload increase this year. In 2012, VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals handled 49,600 appeals. In 2013, it’s already seen 37,000. It expects the number to climb to 54,000 and perhaps up to 100,000 by four years from now. And even today, veterans who appeal their decisions are waiting a very long time for a final answer. The board’s most recent report, covering fiscal year 2012, said it took an average of 1,040 days between the time a veteran submitted an appeal at a regional office and the board’s final decision. And that’s only the second step in the three-step process, the final one of which is the Federal Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Full Story