VA working to cut backlog

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Veterans Affairs Department is on its way to eliminating its claims-processing backlog within four years, a senior VA official said in mid December.

Under the guidance of VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, VA will deem claims as "backlogged" if they take longer than 125 days to process, John Gingrich, the department’s chief of staff, said during a conference call with reporters.

Today, the average claim takes 165 days to process, and department officials plan to drop that average to 80 to 90 days, he said.

The department has about 250,000 claims older than 125 days, Gingrich said. It has reduced the backlogged claims and plans to eliminate the logjam by 2015.

"It’s a huge leap, but we’re going to get there," he said. "Over the next couple months, [VA officials] will be able tell you how we’ll get there."

The reduction has come even as claims are rising, mostly due to policy changes with regard to post-traumatic stress and Vietnam-era Agent Orange chemical exposure, Gingrich said.

More than 100,000 claims are filed with VA every month – about 14,000 each month for post-traumatic stress – resulting in 1.2 million new claims filed this year, Gingrich said. The department received 974,000 claims in 2009, he added.

VA has 45 pilot programs in place to help reach its goal of meeting President Barack Obama’s directive "to transform the VA into a 21st century, people-oriented department with established metrics and is forward-looking," Gingrich said.

"Our leadership is not looking at how things were, but how things are going to be," he said. "I’ve watched this entire leadership chain say: ‘How do we move forward?’"

Making that transformation requires a culture change in the department and a focus on accountability, smarter technology, re-engineered business processes and closer collaboration with stakeholders, Gingrich said. Increased budgets are helping the department make the necessary changes.

"Not only are we working on culture, we’re putting the resources behind it," he said. "The whole VA is behind it. We’ve got VA support, congressional support, and presidential support. We’re going to make a dramatic change in VA processing in the coming years. With the secretary’s help, we’ve turned a corner."