The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that it is mandating the use of overtime for claims processors at its 56 regional offices as part of a “surge” aimed at eliminating the disability claims backlog.
The announcement is the latest in a series of measures the department has adopted in recent months in response to sharp criticism over the number of claims pending from veterans seeking disability compensation. That number, which was over 900,000 earlier this year, had fallen to 843,000 as of May 13, more than two-thirds of which have been pending for over 125 days.
“This increased overtime initiative will provide more veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog,” VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement.
Last month, the VA announced that it is giving priority to claims that have been pending for over one year. “We need to surge our resources now to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.
Unlike all other federal departments, the VA has been entirely exempted from the automatic budget cuts mandated by sequestration.
All of the more than 10,000 VA employees who process disability claims will work a minimum of 20 hours of overtime a month through the end of fiscal year 2013, according to VA spokesman Josh Taylor.
The department did not provide an estimate of the cost for the overtime, but said it is coming out of the existing budget and does not require a new appropriation.