VA hopes to see backlog improvements this fall

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials hope the number of pending veterans compensation claims will start to drop sometime this fall, and are confident they can eliminate the backlog in 2015.

In a budget briefing with reporters Wednesday, Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey said she expects to see the drop in the first quarter of fiscal 2014, which starts Oct. 1.

VA leaders previously have said they expect the backlog to worsen in coming months, but offered no goal for when the problem might improve.

The backlog -- claims that take more than four months to process and complete -- has drawn scorn from lawmakers and veterans advocates. It currently hovers around 600,000 cases, up dramatically from around 80,000 just four years ago.

The average wait for completion of a claim is almost nine months.

VA budget officials said fixing the claims process is their top priority in the fiscal 2014 budget request, which includes a 13.6 percent increase in funds for Veterans Benefits Administration work.

White House officials said last week they are closely monitoring the problem and pressing multiple government agencies for solutions.

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