The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will process almost 300,000 fewer injury-compensation claims from former troops next year than it previously estimated.
The department will handle about 1.32 million claims in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, according to budget documents released yesterday. That’s about 280,000 fewer than the VA estimated a few months ago.
The discrepancy drew criticism from lawmakers at a congressional hearing today. They have pushed the department to deal with a backlog of injury-compensation and pension claims that has delayed payments to former troops.
“You talk about bold predictions for performance, yet year after year results don’t back them up,” said Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The goalposts keep moving.”
More than 885,000 compensation and pension claims were pending as of March 30, and about 69 percent of them have been in the system more than 125 days, the VA’s goal for timely processing.
The lower projections for injury-compensation claims processing are due to changes that occurred as the result of legislation passed by Congress, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told committee members, without elaborating.
The claims backlog drew the attention of Jon Stewart, who hosts the “Daily Show” on Viacom Inc. (VIAB)’s Comedy Central television channel. He called the delays “criminal” during a episode this month.
Stewart showed pictures of an agency office in North Carolina where boxes of claims were threatening a building’s structural integrity.
“Is this the VA or an episode of Hoarders?” Stewart joked, referring to the A&E Television Networks LLC show that features people struggling to part with belongings cluttering their homes.
Miller today said he was frustrated that lawmakers continue to increase the VA’s budget while the issues persist.
“I believe this committee and this Congress has delivered everything the VA has asked for, but I’ve yet to see the benefits,” he said.
The Veterans Benefits Administration, which oversees claims processing, would receive $2.5 billion in President Barack Obama’s budget request released yesterday. That includes $155 million to implement a paperless system and $136 million to convert medical records and other items to digital format.
Axiom Corp., an Atlanta-based information technology vendor, has a VA contract tied to the document-conversion work.
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