Thursday, April 17, 2014

VA Says Disability Claims Backlog Down Almost by Half Over Last Year
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it lowered the number of pending disability claims from 611,000 in March 2013 to 344,000 a year later, and that decisions are being made 119 days sooner. The VA, which instituted mandatory overtime to help tackle the backlog and was not subject to sequestration furloughs last year, said the backlog is now at its lowest since March 2011. After that the backlog shot up because of the need to re-adjudicate 150,000 previously decided cases involving exposure to the Vietnam-era defoliant, Agent Orange. (Re-adjudication was mandated by court order, but also resulted from the department adding ischemic heart disease, certain leukemias, and Parkinson's disease to the list of conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure, the VA said.) A sizable backlog remains, however. The White House fiscal 2015 budget request includes $138.7 million in the veterans claims intake program to help expedite claims, and the VA remains under pressure from Congress to do more, with some in Congress heavily critical of VA management. For example a bill was introduced in the House earlier this year that would make it easier to fire or demote VA senior executive service employees or equivalent based on performance. House leaders recently expressed their intent to call that bill to a floor vote soon. A separate bill calls for a five-year ban on SES performance bonuses at the VA.

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