WASHINGTON – The Veterans Benefits Administration’s Buffalo regional office remains one of the slowest in the country in processing disability claims, but VA officials today noted that the office is doing far better than it was a little more than a year ago.
When the VA’s backlog peaked in April of last year, vets had to wait an average of 267 days to get their claims processed by the Buffalo office.
But now, the wait is down to 185 days, said Beth McCoy, deputy undersecretary for field operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nevertheless, as of Monday, 59.9 percent of the claims at the Buffalo office were pending for more than 125 days, meaning they were part of the case backlog that the VA has been trying to address. The newest figures show that the Buffalo office had the seventh-worst backlog among the VA’s 57 regional offices.
VA officials on a conference call with Buffalo-area reporters this morning indicated there were several reasons why the agency has struggled with disability claims backlogs, including a wave of new cases from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
In addition, a rule change now allows many more Vietnam War veterans to claim disability in connection with their exposure to Agent Orange, a cancer-causing defoliant that the U.S. military used in Southeast Asia at the time.
While offering no clear answers as to why the wait times in Buffalo were longer than they were in many other regional offices, the VA officials stressed that their performance is improving.
“We’ve made progress,” said Lillie Jackson, assistant director of the Buffalo office. “We’re making progress. We’re not finished yet.”
The VA officials said they were adding 19 employees to the local office to help with the backload. In addition, the agency is working to improved its processes and technology as well as staffing nationwide, the officials said.