VA’s claims process has undergone a tremendous positive evolution over the past eight years. It is now a ‘paperless’ system thanks to the Veterans Benefits Management System and the digitally based National Work Queue system. This evolution, led by VA’s dedicated claims teams across the country, resulted in a claims backlog of over 600,000 claims in 2012 fall below 100,000 by 2017.
VA defines backlog as the number of claims pending over 125 days.
Two events have occurred that will, however, result in significant claims backlog increases in the near term.
First, unprecedented claims processing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a current claims backlog of approximately 180,000, more than double its pre-COVID-19 backlog levels. After in-person work restrictions at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) caused a significant growth in the number of outstanding requests for military records, VA collaborated closely with (and continues to collaborate with) NARA to retrieve and scan records into VA’s electronic claims processing system. Mitigating these COVID delays will take more time.
Second, VA is beginning to now process claims related to two significant benefits changes for Veterans enacted by law and expect these new processes have an impact on VA’s ability to deliver benefits within 125 days.
The Blue Water Navy Act of 2019 expanded the definition of qualifying service for Agent Orange exposure, allowing more Veterans to potentially receive compensation benefits for Agent Orange-related disabilities. VA is in process of reviewing these claims and expects around 40,000 additional claims to roll into the backlog on Aug. 29, 2021.
Additionally, the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 (Public Law 116-283) added three conditions to the list of those presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Those three are bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.
Vietnam Veterans and their survivors, who previously filed and were denied compensation benefits for one of the three new presumptive conditions, will have their cases automatically reviewed without the need to refile a claim. VA is in process of reviewing these claims and expects around 70,000 additional claims to roll into the backlog on Oct. 24, 2021.
VA continues to process claims as expeditiously as possible. In addition to the implementation of the administration’s mandates for vaccines and expanded testing, VA, their exam providers, and NARA records staff are applying appropriate safeguards to ensure safety, while also working to expedite benefits decisions for Veterans and their families. VA is committed to breaking this projected backlog and working to get Veterans their benefits they have earned and deserve in a timely manner.
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