PROVIDENCE — Ninety-seven percent of U.S. veteran disability compensation claims more than two years old have been completed and removed from the Department of Veterans Affairs backlog, thanks to an initiative started in April to expedite claims for veterans who have waited a year or longer.
While the Providence regional office for Veterans Affairs did not have many claims over two years old, the employees of the regional office contributed significantly to nationwide efforts to process the oldest claims, the office said in prepared remarks.
The Providence regional office completed 10 claims for veterans in Rhode Island pending more than two years.
“Over the past two months, Veterans Affairs has been dedicated to providing earned benefits to the veterans who have waited the longest…We’re now focusing on eliminating the claims that are more than one year old,” Earl J. Hutchinson, director of the Providence Veteran Affairs regional office, said in a statement.
Claims over two years old are sometimes pending as a result of unique circumstances, such as “the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas,” said Veterans Affairs.
In May, the Department of Veterans Affairs mandated overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices in order to raise production of compensations claims decisions; this will continue through the end of FY 2013, the Providence regional office said in a release.
The department reported that today, it has the lowest number of claims in its inventory since August 2011 and “has reduced the number in the VA backlog — claims pending over 125 days — by 10 percent since the initiative began.”
The initiative, which is centrally managed at the national level and involves all Veterans Affairs regional offices working claims for U.S. veterans, has completed more than 65,000 claims nationwide since it began in April.
The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to eliminate the disability claims backlog by 2015 and aims to process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy, according to a release.
The VA inventory contains mainly “supplemental claims from veterans already receiving disability compensation who are seeking to address worsening conditions or claim additional disabilities,” the Providence regional office said in a statement. Veterans who have served in combat since Nov. 11, 1998 are eligible for five years of free medical care for most conditions from Veterans Affairs — regardless of the status of compensation claims — by way of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008.
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