Nextgov by Bob Brewin 12/28/12: The Veterans Affairs Department’s disability claims backlog edged above the 900,000 mark this week, with 608,365 — 67.6 percent — stuck in the system more than 125 days. VA reported Thursday that total disability claims hit 900,121 as of Dec. 24, up 24,725 — 2.7 percent — from the backlog that existed at the start of the calendar year on Jan. 3, 2012. Claims backlogged more than 125 days increased 7.5 percent or 45,245 since January. In April, representatives of veterans services organizations described the backlog of 897,566 disability claims, with more than 65 percent pending for more than 125 days, as a “staggering” figure that denies veterans quick payment of benefits. VA processed more than one million disability claims in 2012, the third year in a row it hit the million mark. W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers on the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September that the claims backlog reflected the growth in the number of troops leaving military service following the withdrawal from Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan as well as higher survival rates from combat wounds and an increase in the number of medical conditions in each claim. The department plans to deploy its paperless Veterans Benefits Management System nationwide next year, which Gould said will boost claims processing by 15 percent to 20 percent. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has repeatedly vowed to eliminate the claims backlog by 2015.