WASHINGTON, June 12 –
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) welcomed
assurances today that the Department of Veterans Affairs has made “significant
progress” and is “at a tipping point” in reducing a massive backlog of claims
for disability benefits.
The assurances came
from Thomas Murphy, the VA’s director of compensation services, during testimony
before Sanders’ committee. Murphy said the backlog is shrinking and on track to
meet VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s goal of processing all claims within 125 days
with 98 percent accuracy by the end of 2015. “I honestly believe we’re going to
hit that number,” Murphy said.
Murphy was responding
to a question by Sanders about his legislation to require public reports on VA’s
progress toward reducing the backlog.
Sanders welcomed the
news and applauded Shinseki for setting a “very ambitious goal.” While the
caseload decline is encouraging, Sanders said there is still much to be done so
that VA can meet its goal of eliminating the claims backlog. “The current
backlog is unacceptable and this committee will do everything possible to make
sure the VA achieves its goal. We will continue to monitor the situation very
closely,” Sanders said.
There are some 851,000
veterans awaiting answers on compensation claims for illnesses or injuries
incurred during their service. Two-thirds of the claims have been waiting more
than 125 days for an answer, but that number has begun in recent weeks to
decline. Sanders called the claims backlog one of the major issues at the
In the nine weeks since
the end of March, VA’s disability claims backlog has experienced a steady
decrease. The turnaround is thanks in part to an initiative by Shinseki to
transform the way VA processes claims. VA’s transition from a cumbersome
paper-based process to a digital process speeds the delivery of benefits.
Sanders congratulated Shinseki for undertaking the transition to digital records
his predecessors had neglected.
In order to help VA
accomplish its ambitious goals, Sanders introduced the Claims Processing
Improvement Act of 2013, which would provide long-term reforms that would
improve VA’s claims process from start to finish – from the regional offices to
the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The bill also would
enable Congress to conduct more comprehensive oversight of VA’s progress and
transformation by requiring VA to publicly report, on a quarterly basis,
information on both VA’s quarterly goals and actual production.