The veterans disability claims backlog has generated much heat but little light in recent months. Veterans’ advocacy groups, Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs itself have a variety of explanations for the backlog, but one fact remains clear: Far too many disabled vets are waiting far too long for the benefits they need and deserve.
As reported in the June 19 issue of Stars and Stripes, Richard Dumancus of the American Legion said, “We’ve heard time and time again that this is the year they’ll break the backlog. We want to be optimistic … but it’s hard to find optimism when so many red flags pop up.”
The backlog is down slightly from a year ago, but more than 911,000 claims remain unprocessed. Around two-thirds of claims processed take more than 125 days, which is the VA’s stated claims processing time.
Testifying before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, William Bosanko of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), said that the VA would need to add at least 4,000 more employees just to scan the billions of pages of paper benefit claims. NARA provided services to the VA at five locations under a two-year contract that expires this year, developing a system that not only scans documents, but also recognizes and tags information from 170 different forms.
NARA has recommended that the VA turn to the private sector for help in dealing with both the millions of pages of paper from current claims and with the billions of pages from veterans’ records that date to World War II. All veterans’ records must be digitized for the new paperless Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to function.
Dumancas summarized the concerns about the VA’s ability to deal with the backlog while trying to convert to a digital system. “Is VA prepared for the massive volume of scanning, with attendant optical character recognition, to ensure the new electronic files are truly searchable and useful in an electronic operating environment? Which files are to be scanned?" he asked. "Will only new files be electronic? Will files be converted to electronic when new actions are initiated on that file? Who will provide that scanning? Will there be a scanning division set up in every regional office, or will it be centralized? Will there be hybrid files, combining electronic and paper documents, and how will those files be handled?”
To date, there have been no satisfactory answers to his questions, and disabled veterans continue to wait.