The Veterans Affairs Department will implement a temporary reprieve from requiring employees to work overtime to reduce the backlog of disability claims, saying it does not want to ask too much of its workforce.
During a meeting with reporters, Secretary Eric Shinseki announced a plan to generally cut back on the amount of overtime employees must take moving forward, saying he can only ask his claims processing units to “go full throttle for so long,” according to the Associated Press. The overtime policy has played a critical role in reducing the claims backlog, with the number of veterans waiting more than 125 days for a response dropping by more than a third since March, to 401,000.
“I’ve got to be careful here,” Shinseki said. “You just can’t keep that running forever.”
VA will lift the requirement -- which mandates claims processors take at least 20 hours of overtime every month -- for two months, beginning Nov. 23. The department will monitor the effect of the overtime freeze to determine its impact on the progress in processing claims. The employees can still take voluntary overtime, a department spokeswoman told Government Executive.
During the government shutdown in October, the processors could not take overtime, and progress slowed significantly. In fiscal 2013 -- which ended prior to the shutdown -- VA processed 100,000 fewer claims than it expected. In that year, however, it processed more claims than it took in for the first time in five years.
Shinseki said despite the temptation to use overtime, he was worried about diminishing returns.
"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.
Congressional funding will also dictate the use of overtime, the spokeswoman said. The Veterans Benefits Administration, which conducts claims processing, received an 8.5 percent budget increase in fiscal 2013 and was exempt from sequestration cuts.