Chart: The Benefits Claims That Are Flying Under the Radar at VA


The long-standing slog within the Veterans Affairs Department to cut down its mountain of disability claims has been well documented.

Or has it?

The VA loves to talk about how it's on track to reach its goal next year of completing all disability compensation and pension claims within 125 days—keeping them off the dreaded "backlogged" list. Frequently overlooked? The other two-thirds of VA claims—or more than 1 million requests—aren't subject to the department's 125-days, 98-percent accuracy goal. 

"The VA does a good job in convincing lawmakers and the public and the media that the only claims that everybody should be focused on should be disability claims," said Gerald Manar, national veterans service deputy director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a former 30-year VA employee. "... It's disingenuous of VA leaders to claim that they've made progress, but there's still all this other work out there."

What are these other claims clogging up the VA's system?

They run the gamut from aiming to change the amount of disability pay a veteran receives to appealing previous decisions by the department. They also include responses to congressional inquiries. So while the number of pending VA disability claims has shrunk in recent years, the number of overall claims has mushroomed to roughly 1.64 million. That's compared with 941,666 in late 2009.

Here is a breakdown of the main claims the VA is wrestling with under the radar.

Award Adjustments For those of you who don't spend your free time digging around the VA's website or aren't fluent in VA-speak, an award adjustment is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Veterans or their family members can try to change the amount awarded to them or their family members for a variety of reasons. The VA can also request a change.

For example, a veteran could want to reinstate a child's dependent status, so the child can receive payments from the VA. Or the department could try to decrease pension pay for veterans whose income exceeds a certain threshold.

The VA needs to tackle 471,418 of these award adjustments, which are divided between compensation and pension payments. And although these outstanding claims aren't included in the VA's drive to cut the backlog, nearly 70 percent of them have been pending for 125 days or more.

Appeals These make up the second largest group of the VA's other claims. There are 279,055 pending appeals, which is more than the VA's infamous number of backlogged disability claims. Veterans' advocates are split on what is behind a recent increase in appeals. Some believe that in the race to clear the claims that are officially "backlogged," more veterans are forced to appeal VA decisions that were rushed or inaccurate. Others say that as the number of claims that are processed increases, it makes sense to see a correlating increase in appeals.

Either way, the appeals process can leave a veteran in claims limbo for an additional two and a half years.

The Others Think of it as the kitchen drawer where you stick the odds and ends—random takeout menus, those holiday cookie cutters that you never used, a broken can opener you should probably just throw away. Except when it comes to these other claims, the VA has a lot of them—327,602 to be exact, a majority of which are tied to compensation.

These claims can include Freedom of Information Act requests, cost-of-living adjustments, and even correspondence with lawmakers. They also include internal quality reviews—an in-house attempt to catch serious mistakes.

A minority of these claims—slightly more than 30,000—are tied to pensions, which follows a larger trend in which pension claims make up a relatively small amount of the VA's total claims workload.

And while acknowledging that the VA has made progress on its disability compensation and pension claims, Manar said, "The problem is that they've done it to the exclusion of much of the rest of the workload, and, as a consequence, there are even more glaring problems."

(Image via Garsya/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.