Since last November there has been a 30,000-case increase in the backlog of VA disability claims, says the Military Times. After VA critics and Congress focused their attention on the backlog problem, the number of first time cases that took more than four months to process dropped from a high of 610,000 cases in early 2013 to about 70,000 cases in October 2015 where it stabilized for about a year. Now that number has crept back up to more than 100,000 cases.
VA officials say this is only a temporary blip. They are confident, they say, that the backlog can be reduced again. “But to do that,” the Military Times says, ”they’re…instituting mandatory overtime for claims processors for the fourth year in a row, a practice that in the past has raised questions about whether VA officials have enough capacity to handle the ever-increasing number of benefits cases.” Willie Clark, deputy under secretary for the Veterans Benefits Administration explained, “It’s a tough decision, and it is just a stopgap measure. We’ve tried for a more balanced approach in processing all claims, and that lead to an increase in the backlog.”
But concerns about this issue remain. The government watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, stated in a March report that the backlog is likely to get worse unless the VA beefs up its staffing. Advocates for veterans have been worried that a federal hiring freeze imposed by the Trump administration would make the backlog problem worse. But, the Times reports that “VA leaders have also asked for (and received) an exemption to the federal hiring freeze for disability claims examiners and other staff to address the issue.”