VA may not fix backlog by end of 2015

Veterans Day parade

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may not meet its self-imposed goal of eliminating the backlog of veterans’ disability claims by the of the year, according to Reveal News.

After analyzing the department’s progress so far this year, Reveal said the department is on pace to still have about 20,000 veterans waiting at the end of the year.

President Barack Obama mentioned the backlog in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

From his speech:

I can report that since its peak two years ago, we’ve now cut the backlog by 80 percent — by 80 percent. And we’re going to keep bringing it down. Instead of all that paper, the VA is now handling almost all your disability claims electronically.

But, as Reveal points out, the goal to eliminate the backlog wasn’t mentioned among the five priorities of the president’s veterans agenda.

According to the story:

But does the five-year-old promise to eliminate the backlog this year still stand? It was notably missing from a speech on veterans’ issues delivered Tuesday by the president.

The backlog goal is still listed by the VA on performance.gov: “Reduce the percentage of disability claims pending for more than 125 days to 50 percent in FY 2014 and 0 percent in FY 2015.”

Plus, the average wait time for veterans who have applied for benefits is at or nearly back to 2009 levels in many cities. While the average veteran waited for a year or more in many cities back in 2013, now the average wait time is back down to roughly five months in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

At the Pittsburgh VA, which serves Western Pennsylvania, the average wait time is 146 days and more than 3,800 veterans have been waiting more than a year for an answer.

PublicSource reported on the disability claims backlog at its peak in 2013, when wait times were regularly lasting more than a year. We also wrote a series of stories, Coming Home PA, in 2012 and 2013 about veterans returning to civilian life.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.