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VA warns disability claims progress ‘at risk’

The Department of Veterans Affairs warned Tuesday night that the government shutdown will reverse its progress on lowering the backlog of disability claims.

The department said it can no longer pay overtime to claims processors, an initiative begun in May that department officials credit as a major reason for a 30 percent drop in the inventory of disability claims over the last six months.

“Due to the government shutdown, this clear progress for veterans and their families is at risk without immediate action by Congress to make fiscal year 2014 funding available,” the VA said in its statement.

“Overtime ends today,” Tommy Sowers, the VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, wrote in a tweet Tuesday. “After decreasing backlog by 30% we project it will start increasing”

The VA released its statement Tuesday evening in response to a request from The Washington Post for more details about the impact of the shutdown on overtime for claims processors.

When the VA announced the overtime in May, it was only slated to last until Sept. 30. However, beginning in late July, VA undersecretary for benefits Allison Hickey told several veteran service organizations that the initiative would be extended into November.