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VA says it has reached ‘tipping point’ in backlog struggle

The Department of Veterans Affairs has reached a “tipping point” in its struggle to get a grip on the massive backlog of disability claims plaguing veterans, a senior department official told a Senate committee Wednesday.

The number of pending cases has decreased by 74,000 over the past 45 days, Thomas Murphy, director of compensation service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“We can expect the backlog to continue to decrease,” Murphy said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the committee, said the VA update represents a significant milestone for the effort to cut the backlog, which he described as “the most contentious” issue facing the department.

The VA has come under withering criticism in recent months over the size of the backlog, which has ballooned during the Obama administration, fueled by rules allowing more Agent Orange-related claims to be filed as well as am influx of claims filed by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The number of pending claims stands at more than 816,000, including nearly 540,000 pending for more than 125 days.

The VA has promised that by the end of 2015, it will have resolved all cases pending for more than 125 days, with a 98 percent accuracy rate.

“I honestly believe we’re going to meet that goal,” Murphy told the panel.

Representatives of veterans groups at the hearing said they believe the VA is making progress in cutting the backlog, but added that the department needs to share more data with the public.

“In God we trust, all others we verify,” said Ian de Planque, deputy legislative director of the American Legion. “We would like to see more in terms of putting out benchmarks,” he added.

Sanders said he supports proposed legislation that would require the VA to release more information.