Disability backlog will be cleared by 2022, says Veterans Affairs, despite new report

The Department of Veterans Affairs is sticking to its March 2022 target for clearing a backlog of disabilities payments claims, despite a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office that says it will take an extra year.

The PBO report last week said the department would also need another $100 million to keep temporary staff working for that extra year.

In recent years applications have been coming in faster than DVA can clear them. 

“What we’re seeing over the course of the last three or four years is the increase in the amount of applications coming in has gone up by about 40 per cent,” Steven Harris, assistant deputy minister of service delivery at Veterans Affairs, told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

“In some of the categories it’s even more than 40 per cent.”

Currently, about 45,000 veterans are waiting for a decision, with more than 21,000 of them waiting longer than four months. 

 The standard for the department is to clear applications within 16 weeks 80 per cent of the time. In June, the average clearance time for a first-time PTSD case was reported to be around 37 weeks or 9 months.

DVA is in the midst of hiring 300 new staff to catch up. The PBO report says that won’t be enough.

Streamlining processes

While Harris is not completely familiar with the methodology used by the PBO, he said, it is his understanding the report focused on the impact of the added staff.

Harris said additional staff is not the only change the department is making. The department is creating new process for reviewing applications connected to common problems, such as hearing issues, musculoskeletal conditions, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When we see things much more commonly we are able to build models and principles that allow people to make these decisions more easily and more quickly,” said Harris.

“We want to make sure that we’re streamlining them to make sure that those easiest, or the ones that are most straightforward, can be handled at a very initial level.”

These new processes will mean fewer cases reviewed by medical professionals, who are more difficult to recruit.

Harris said the new processes will not only speed up the process, but also make applications easier for veterans.

Harris added that despite the changes that have come from many staff working at home during the pandemic, the rate of applications clearance at the department has increased.

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