There’s a lot of news this week about the VA, but this item sent our Bunk-O-Meter alarm screeching like a wounded banshee.
The Veterans Affairs Department asserts that the backlog of 235,700 financial and medical assistance claims will be eliminated by the end of the year, and claims will be processed within four months.
How will this herculean task be accomplished? There’s really only one way that pencil pushers solve problems, and that’s by switching up required paperwork.
The VA has been claiming for years that the backlog would be extinguished by the end of 2015, but we’re not buying it.
The VA has been able to substantially reduce the total number of claims nationwide over the past three years. VA workers are currently processing 480,000 claims, which is roughly half of the 884,000 claims that were in the VA pipeline in July 2012, when delays in claims processing became a national scandal.
We agree it’s a national scandal. Even more egregious were some of the methods employed to “reduce” the backlog from 1999 until 2009 by stashing 13,000 claims in a filing cabinet.
But new delay tactics are a little more creative. In Texas, one manager reduced their workload by manipulating unfinished claims to make them look like they had been completed, the Houston Chronicle reported last month.
Even trickier, the backlog is the number of first time claims, not the number of claims that were denied and forced into appeals, as the Military Times explains:
Since the first-time claims backlog began dropping, the number of appeals has risen steadily, from about 245,000 cases in March 2013 to more than 287,000 cases today.
VA officials have said that’s due to a larger number of cases coming in, not a reflection of first-time claims being shifted into the appeals pile. Still, with appeals cases taking several years to complete, on average, veterans groups have raised concerns about that rising total.
The first-time claims backlog has remained stalled since early November, which mirrors similar holiday slowdowns for VA processors in recent years.
The department will need to make more progress in January and February to reach its zero goal by next December.
It turns out the VA operates like a kindergarten playground. On the see-saw, claims go down while appeal go up, and bureaucrats play hide-and-seek with the paperwork or color outside of the lines in their activity books.
This might be a game for federal desk-jockeys, but it most assuredly is not for our veterans.
9News reports there are more than 7,700 claims being processed by the Denver Regional Benefits Office, and more than 4,100 of those are part of the backlog for medical care, financial compensation, pensions, burials and vocational rehab.
Instead of fixating their efforts on a PR stunt to get to zero first-time claims, perhaps the VA should refocus on delivering the actual benefits to veterans who were promised this help in return for serving their country.