Inspector general finds VA claims backlog greater than reported

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 10, 2018

WASHINGTON – The number of backlogged benefits claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs is larger than the agency reported, according to findings released Monday from a government watchdog.

The VA considers backlogged claims to be veterans’ claims for benefits that take longer than 125 days to approve or deny. The VA Inspector General’s Office reported officials omitted 63,600 backlogged claims from its count during the first half of 2016, creating a misrepresentation of how many claims were delayed.

Overall, the VA’s estimated backlog represents only 79 percent of actual backlogged claims, the IG determined.

“The pending backlog could be significantly understated,” the report states.

The VA has been criticized in recent years for being slow to make decisions on claims, which can take years to complete. In 2013, the number of backlogged claims hit a peak of 611,000.

The VA has taken steps to reduce the backlog, and as of last week, the agency reported there were about 86,000 backlogged claims. However, the VA is underestimating that number because of unclear parameters about which claims apply for the backlog, the IG concluded.

Inspectors blamed the problems on “ineffective oversight and training.” The Inspector General’s Office found no instances of fraud during its investigation.

In response to the report, Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary for benefits, vowed to retrain employees and clarify which claims should be counted in the backlog. He expects the training to be complete by next September.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling