Congress Questions Backlog in Veterans' Disability Claims

In June, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing to address the growing backlog of veterans’ disability compensation claims. During these hearings, officials from the Veterans Administration generally have complex answers few can understand.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Bob Filner of California expressed frustration over lack of progress in reducing the backlog despite yearly hearings on the subject.

Filner mentioned that the first backlog hearing was 20 years ago. Since that first hearing, the VA has hired as many as 10,000 new employees. Unfortunately, even with new staff the backlog of claims has grown to over 900,000. The backlog has more than doubled in recent years.

Filner stated that the administration has not tried new programs to reduce the backlog of claims and was frustrated that much of the efforts had simply been to “recycle programs.” In addition, Filner commented that, “The definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over and expect different results.” He came back to the same theme several times over the course of the hearing.

During the hearing, officials from four major veteran’s service organizations were also present to discuss the problems associated with the backlog. Gerald Manar, deputy director of the National Veterans Services for the Veterans of Foreign Wars tempered some of the harsher criticism by stating, “Sir, when you blow up something, you have nothing left.”

The administration needs to implement structural change in order to reduce the length of time veterans wait for their disability determinations. However, those changes will likely be incremental as the agency tries new strategies. At the same time, the current amount of congressional oversight may force the agency to put changes into place more quickly.

Source: New York Times, “Backlog of Disability Claims for Veterans Sends Democrat on a Tear,” James Dao, June 20, 2012.