WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs will temporarily suspend a program that requires more than 10,000 disability claims processors to work at least 20 hours of overtime per month with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki saying Thursday he had to be careful not to burn out his workforce.
Shinseki, speaking with reporters before Veterans Day, emphasized the latest VA count showing that the number of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days has dropped nearly 34 percent since late March to about 401,000.
The backlog, while a longstanding problem, had intensified under Shinseki's watch as more solders returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the VA made it easier for Vietnam Veterans to get disability compensation stemming from exposure to Agent Orange. More and more lawmakers were voicing concern about the administration's handling of the problem and some are calling for an independent commission to examine how best to solve the problem and keep it from happening again.
Shinseki said mandatory overtime would be renewed in late January. "I've got to be careful here. I learned a long time ago you can ask even the best units to go full-throttle only for so long," Shinseki said. "You just can't keep that running forever."
Shinseki has set a goal of eliminating the backlog entirely in 2015. He said he's confident the VA will meet that goal. "I've just got to be smart to get the workforce to continue to sustain the kind of performance they've had in the last 230 days," he said.