While the Department of Veterans Affairs scrambles to reduce a staggering backlog of disability claims, another problem has come into view: a backlog of appeals.
There are 45,000 appeals waiting to be heard by the Board of Veterans Appeals and the number is expected to swell to 102,000 by 2017, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Tuesday after the VA subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs aired the issue. She is the subcommittee’s ranking member.
“Improving the speed and efficiency of both the claims process and the appeals system will be a small step to recognize these men and women for their sacrifices,” Titus said in a statement after the hearing.
She intends to send a letter to VA officials seeking a plan to address the anticipated increase in appeals, her spokeswoman said.
As of 2012, the average wait to complete a veteran’s appeal was 903 days.
In April, there were nearly 900,000 veterans disability claims pending nationwide. Two-thirds of the backlog, 606,000 claims was generated by service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan while much of the remaining one-third is attributed to veterans of previous wars including Vietnam veterans who filed claims for presumptive health problems linked to their exposure to Agent Orange herbicides.
The VA has been under pressure from Congress and particularly Nevada’s delegation to reduce the backlog, especially at the VA’s Reno regional benefits office.
The Reno office, which serves 250,000 Nevada veterans in addition to vets in some California counties, is ranked fifth worst in the nation for processing claims. VA statistics from April showed 80 percent of Nevada’s 10,333 claimants had been waiting more than 125 days to have their claims processed, including 4,210 who have waited more than a year for an answer.
In terms of average wait time, the Reno office ranked second worst, at 504 days, behind the Los Angeles office at 576 days, according to VA figures released this month by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
In her statement, Titus said the subcommittee’s perspective “is not to rob Peter to pay Paul. So let’s not resolve the backlog at the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) only to create a new one of appeals.”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.