WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 10,000 workers who handle disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs will be required to work at least 20 hours of overtime each month in an effort reduce a sizable backlog, the department announced Wednesday.
The overtime requirement will last through September and comes as many federal workers face furloughs because of mandatory budget cuts. The VA was exempt from those spending reductions.
"We need to surge our resources now to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog," said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the VA.
The VA has come under fire from veterans groups and members of Congress for the number of claims pending longer than 125 days. About 570,000 disability claims fall into that category, nearly two-thirds of all claims pending.
The advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the VA's announcement was good to see, but it also emphasized that more was needed and renewed a call for President Barack Obama to get more directly involved.
"Bringing the backlog down to zero will not be achieved piecemeal, and unfortunately there is no sign that the administration will bring together VA, DOD and other agencies to develop a sustainable plan to address the structural problems that have created the backlog," said Paul Rieckhoff, the group's CEO and founder. "Instead of chipping away around the edges, veterans need a comprehensive strategy."
Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries and illness incurred or aggravated during their active military service. The amount of the compensation is based on a rating assigned by the VA.
The VA announcement was the second in the past month designed to help veterans with longstanding disability claims. It recently announced that it would be expediting claims decisions for veterans who had been waiting more than a year. Veterans whose claims are granted would get compensation immediately. Veterans whose claims are denied will have a year to submit more information before the VA makes a final decision.
The department has made some progress in recent weeks on claiming pending longer than 125 days. The backlog for such claims is now down about 1,000 from where it was at this time last year.