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Veterans Affairs faces daunting job of reducing medical claims backlog

From Jennifer Rizzo, CNN National Security Producer
  • A quarter-million medical claims have been in the system for 125-plus days, official says
  • Secretary Shinseki had vowed to eliminate that delay time by year's end
  • Changes in guidelines contributed to a higher number of claims

Washington (CNN) -- Veteran claims for medical benefits are still piled high at the Veterans Affairs Department, despite a major push from the secretary of the department for quicker claims processing.

There are a quarter of a million claims in the system that have not been assessed within 125 days of being filed, according to Mike Walcoff, acting under secretary for benefits. Backlogged claims amount to more than one-third of the cases in the system, a similar ratio to last year.

Earlier this year, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki called for an initiative eradicating backlogged claims by 2015.

The department has been hit with more claims this year after it increased the number of Agent Orange- and Gulf War-related illnesses that qualify for benefits, and put new rules in place that simplify the process for post-traumatic stress disorder claims.

PTSD claims alone have increased 125% and there have been 200,000 new Agent Orange-related claims, only 30,000 of which have been decided, the department said.

To meet Shinseki's goal, Veterans Affairs has implemented 45 pilot programs, commissioned an innovation contest and started new procedures like Fast Track, a web portal aimed at speeding up the claims processing system to under 30 days.