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Titus Demands VA Add Staff to Attack Appeals Backlog

WASHINGTON Rep. Dina Titus on Thursday demanded the Department of Veterans Affairs add staff immediately to attack a backlog of benefit appeals.

Titus, D-Nev., said the agency should add enough claims officers to reduce the appeals backlog by 33 percent a year, a rate that theoretically could erase the excess in three years. A Titus spokeswoman said the VA would need to determine how many workers to add to meet that goal, and what that would cost.

The VA has been haunted by backlogs of disability claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans plus aging vets of earlier eras.

A VA drive has reduced a backlog of initial claims from 611,000 in March 2013 to 235,800 as of the end of January. But Titus and others have argued that has only created a new backlog further down the pipeline, at the point where veterans appeal claims that have been denied

Titus said veterans are waiting almost 1,300 days to have their appeals decided. Some 1,400 appeals from Nevada veterans are awaiting decisions.

When a veteran asks my office for help appealing a claim, it is difficult to inform him or her that the process could take more than three years, Titus said in a letter Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. The VA does not have a detailed plan for how it will address this pressing issue.

At a House Veterans Affairs Committee meeting last month, VA officials said it takes special training to become decision review officers. Beth McCoy, a deputy undersecretary for the Veterans Benefits Administration, said 300 new workers are undergoing training now in order to be ready to handle appeals by the end of September.

Titus was told three of the additional review officers would be dispatched to the VAs Reno office, which would expand that outposts appeals staff to 10.




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