VA Makes Good on Pledge to Reduce Claims Backlog News & Links

America's Veterans

WASHINGTON (Oct. 8, 2003) - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi today declared partial victory in the Bush administration's battle to reduce the backlog of veterans' compensation claims.

On Sept. 30, the Secretary made good on his pledge when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pending inventory dropped to 253,000 claims, representing a 41 percent reduction in inventory from a high of 432,000.

"I am very proud of all the hard work our employees around the country have done over the past two years to get our backlog down," Principi said. "We must not, however, let our guard down now that the inventory of claims has returned to normal levels. We must build on this success."

A cornerstone of Principi's pledge to the nation in 2001 was to reduce the pending claims workload in VA to 250,000 rating claims by Sept. 30, 2003. This number represents a normal workload inventory because of the complex process involved in gathering all the information and evidence needed to decide a veteran's claim.

To convert that pledge to an actionable plan, Principi chartered the VA Claims Processing Task Force shortly after taking office. Chaired by the current Under Secretary for Benefits, Daniel L. Cooper, the task force recommended a series of changes to improve the claims process, which Cooper has implemented.

As a result, VA has over the past two years decided about 68,000 claims per month, an increase of more than 70 percent from the 2001 level of about 40,000 per month.

"Reducing the claims inventory level is important, but is only part of the administration's goals for improving service to veterans," said Cooper. "VA is continuing to make gains in reducing the time a veteran must wait for a decision on a claim while focusing equal attention on ensuring the accuracy of our decisions."

Principi also set as a goal the completion of veterans' claims in an average of 100 days. This goal, while not yet achieved, is within VA's grasp.

"In February 2002, it took an average of 233 days, or more than seven months, to adjudicate a new disability claim. Although we have reduced that average to 156 days, I hope that in the months ahead we'll be able to announce we are at 100 days, giving veterans the service they deserve," Principi said.

It is also significant to note that the average age of the claims in VA's inventory has been reduced from over 200 days to 111 days.

The improvements in claims processing have not been made at the expense of quality. VA's measure of the accuracy of its benefit entitlement decisions is now at 85 percent, an improvement from an 81 percent accuracy level in fiscal year 2002.

As VA works toward continued improvement in quality and the 100-day goal to render a decision, Principi has directed all employees to give special priority to the claims of veterans returning home with injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VA continues to work closely with the Department of Defense to find better ways to coordinate efforts related to delivery of benefits to service members returning home from conflicts around the world.