The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to meet its self-imposed deadline for reducing the backlog of disability claims to zero.
In January 2013, when the agency was led by Secretary Eric Shinseki, promised that the count of unresolved claims 125 days old or older would be whittled down to zero by Sept. 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year.
As of Sept. 28, over 75,000 disability claims were still backlogged.
When the count of backlogged claims stood at about 125,000 in July of this year, the agency walked back that initial promise, suggesting that Shinseki had meant to fix the deadline at the end of the calendar year, Dec. 31. Officials also say that the date was never intended as a firm deadline.
Allison Hickey, a VA official, has suggested that the agency will never eliminate the backlog of its oldest claims.
“Zero for us is not an absolute zero,” Hickey said in August when the backlog was reduced to just under 100,000 unresolved claims from a peak of well over 600,000 in March 2013.
While the VA has touted its claims reduction, reports have surfaced of regional VA offices across the country manipulating and shredding records. For instance, employees at a Philadelphia VA center in 2014 were found to have manipulated claims data. More recently, an employee at a Houston VA center was discovered to have altered nearly 100 claims to meet management goals.
The VA inspector general in August discovered staffers at a Los Angeles center shredding mail from veterans regarding disability claims. As a result, the VA has launched at least 10 investigations into benefit data manipulation at facilities nationwide.