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Figures show continued decline in disability backlog, but criticism persists

A petition signed by 26,000 veterans and delivered to the White House Tuesday calls for President Obama to end the disability claims backlog and fire Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, even as figures show a continued decline in the number of cases awaiting action.

In advance of the petition, submitted by the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, the Department of Veterans Affairs  released a fact sheet Monday reporting that the claims backlog  of 490,000 claims pending more than 125 days is down by almost 20 percent from its highest point more than four months ago,

The fact sheet shows the VA progress first reported in June, when VA officials said they had reached a tipping point in the struggle, with figures showing a decline.

Petition organizers said the progress is not enough. “There are still 500,000 veterans waiting in the disability claims backlog, and this is unacceptable,” the organization said in a statement. “CVA is keeping the heat on and will ensure the voices of veterans are heard.”

Obama told a veterans group this month that the administration was “turning the tide” in the effort to reduce the backlog. ””Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we’re making progress,” Obama said in an address to the Disabled American Veterans’ convention in Orlando Aug. 10. “In the last five months alone, it’s down nearly 20 percent.”

The claims backlog — those cases pending 125 days or longer — is down from the 530,000 reported June 15, figures show. The VA says its total claims inventory of 773,000 is the lowest since April 2011, and down from 808,000 on June 15.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the figures show “significant” progress in reducing the long wait many veterans face to have their claims heard.

“We must remain aggressive and we intend to closely monitor the situation to ensure that the progress continues, but I am glad we are now making progress toward the goal of ending the backlog by the end of 2015,” Sanders said in a statement released by his office.

The VA said the measures it has taken to reduce the backlog, including reorganizations, new training and new technology, amount to “the largest transformation in its history to eliminate the backlog of disability compensation claims, and transform the way benefits and services are delivered to veterans, their families, and survivors.