At a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Department of Veteran Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey told lawmakers that she believes it is possible for VA to eliminate its backlog of veterans' medical claims by the end of 2015, Military Times/USA Today reports.
VA currently has more than 895,000 pending claims. Seventy percent of those claims are older than 125 days, which is the agency's self-imposed processing deadline (Maze, Military Times/USA Today, 3/20).
Since 2008, the number of claims in VA's system has risen by 48%.
At a congressional hearing last year, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told lawmakers that technological advances would help VA ease its backlog of health benefit claims (iHealthBeat, 3/16/12).
Hickey said that she recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense to provide all medical information to VA in an electronic format as part of VA's efforts to accelerate claims processing.
She added that the Social Security Administration now provides VA with veteran medical data weekly, rather than on an annual basis, to help speed up claims processing.
Hickey urged veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to use the joint VA/DOD eBenefits portal to submit their claims because it is faster than filing a claim in person at a regional office (Brewin, NextGov, 3/20).
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chair of the House committee, said, "There are many people, myself included, who are losing patience as we continue to hear the same excuses from VA about increased workload and increased complexity of claims" (Military Times/USA Today, 3/20).
Miller -- who called for Hickey's resignation -- noted that although the VA has increased its staffing levels since 1997, the number of claims processed annually by the "average VA field employee" fell from 135 to 75 in 2011 (NextGov, 3/20).
Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) said he is skeptical that the department will be able to meet its 2015 goal, noting that it would require VA to process 3.4 million claims in two-and-a-half years (Military Times/USA Today, 3/20).