The Department of Veteran Affairs has eliminated more than 200,000 cases from  the backlog of disability claims, a 34 percent decrease since its peak of 611,000 in March, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told reporters Thursday. But he said the department will make sparing use of mandatory overtime next year, an initiative credited as an important part of the reduction.

Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Shinseki said the department was easing back on overtime, which was begun in May, to avoid exhausting the workforce. “You can only run full throttle for so long,” he told reporters during a media roundtable at VA headquarters.

Progress on the backlog slowed during the partial government shutdown, when the VA was forced to stop mandatory overtime. “We took a 17-day pause and watched a flat line,” Shinseki said.

The overtime was reinstated when the shutdown ended, but only until Nov. 23, and then will be reinstated in late January.

Shinseki said the department will monitor what impact stopping the overtime again for two months has on continued progress.

He said the department would continue overtime use in 2014 “with a fine hand on the tiller. We’re sensitive to the concerns of a workforce that we’re already asking a lot of.”

Shinseki said that since launching an initiative in April to eliminate the oldest cases, the VA has completed 93 percent of claims older than one year.