VA touts gains of 44% in reducing claims backlog in past year

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reduced its claims backlog by about 44 percent to 344,000 claims from more than 611,000 last March, according to an announcement.

The agency says that the average wait time for a decision is 119 days less than it was a year ago.

"Through a combination of transformation initiatives and the hard work of our employees, we are making significant progress toward our goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

Shinseki has said the switch to an electronic system is key to the goal set in 2010 of processing all disability claims within 125 days at a 98-percent accuracy level. The backlog of claims is at its lowest point since March 2011, when 150,000 previously decided claims were to be readjudicated and 100,000 new claims were added related to Agent Orange.

The VA also has given staff more training, streamlined processes, authorized overtime and given priority to the oldest claims, according to the announcement, which says its accuracy rate has grown to 91 percent, up eight percentage points from 2011.

The VA and the U.S. Department of Defense, have been working together on technology called the Health Artifact and Image Management Solution (HAIMS) to expedite disability claims decisions.The agency's announcement stands in contrast to a report from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America released in February stating that the process had stalled at 400,000 claims.

That report, The Battle to End the VA Backlog, called an interoperable electronic health record between the VA and DoD "long overdue," adding that such a tool was the "single most important initiative" to resolve the logjam.

Both agencies have proposed boosting their budgets for IT initiatives in 2015.

Under President Obama's proposed budget for the VA, $173 million would be allocated to Veterans Benefits Management System, the department's paperless processing system. In addition, it proposes $139 million to continue conversion of paper records into electronic images and data in the VBMS.

Meanwhile, the Defense Health Agency, created to streamline interoperability between the two agencies, has proposed a budget that would more than triple funding for its work on an integrated EHR with the VA from $19.9 million in 2014 to $68.3 million next year.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement

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