Backlog of Veterans’ Disability Claims: A Post-Shutdown Update

Throughout the year, we’ve been following the problem of the backlog in processing claims by veterans for disability benefits. The year began with a big backlog of those claims. But the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed to collaborate more closely to expedite the processing of claims. And over the summer, the VA approved a “surge” of overtime work to reduce the waiting times for benefits.

Of course, even with such a surge, a large backlog remained. Yet as we discussed in our September 6 post, President Obama said he hoped that the surge had turned around the trend in a positive direction of reduced waiting times.

Less than a month after the president made this statement, however, the partial government shutdown hit. In this post, we will discuss how the shutdown affected veterans’ disability claims.

Not surprisingly, the 16-day shutdown was a step backward for the VA in its efforts to reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. With so many federal workers on furlough, the workers simply weren’t there to keep processing the claims.

The VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, has promised his agency will completely clear out the backlog by 2015. But when the shutdown began on October 1, there were still about 418,000 open claims.

It’s true that, before the shutdown, the VA had cleared out upwards of 190,000 claims in the previous six months. But with the end of the so-called “surge” of mandatory overtime and the effect of reduced hours worked during the shutdown, the VA now acknowledges that the backlog is essentially flat.

In short, the duration of the process for getting approved for Social Security disability benefits or VA benefits was inevitably affected by the 16-day shutdown. The VA may need another surge to turn the tide again for vets.

Source: MSNBC, “Shutdown means ‘lost ground’ for disabled veterans benefits,” Ned Resnikoff, Oct. 18, 2013