Shutdown will reverse progress on VA claims backlog

The Department of Veterans affairs warned yesterday that the government shutdown will reverse its long-sought progress on reducing the backlog of disability claims.

Because of the shutdown, claims processors cannot be paid overtime. The initiative began in May and it's credited to a nearly 30 percent drop in disability claims since its inception. The backlog, which stood at 611,000 claims in March, was down to 496,000 claims as of Aug. 9, White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed.

"Due to the government shutdown, this clear progress for veterans and their families is at risk without immediate action by Congress to make fiscal year 2014 funding available," the VA said in its statement, obtained by The Washington Post.

Tommy Sowers, the VA's assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, expressed his frustration in a tweet yesterday, saying that "because of #shutdown @VAVetBenefits overtime ends today. After decreasing backlog by 30% we project it will start increasing."

Back in August, President Obama said, "We're turning the tide. And we're not going to let up until we eliminate the backlog once and for all."

In April, 67 U.S. senators sent Obama a letter calling for more direct involvement in the claims backlog debacle. One month earlier, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the electronic claims system would help end the backlog by 2015.

In its budget request in April, the VA asked for $3.683 billion for IT projects, $155 million of which it said would be designated for the claims system.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article

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