At Seattle town hall, VA says backlog of disability claims dwindling

SEATTLE -- The Seattle division of the U.S, Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday that it has greatly reduced a massive backlog of disability claims.

During a town hall meeting at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle, the VA told a handful of veterans and other stakeholders that huge strides have been made in the way such claims are processed.

“We went from a paper-based system to an electronic system, so now 99% of all our claims are processed electronically,” said Andrew Graf, assistant director of the Seattle Regional Office of the VA. “That means no 3-inch to 4-inch paper files physically being moved around the office. That’s gone. Now everything is electronic and we even have a centralized mail system.”

Since Jan. 1, 2015, the backlog of disability claims filed by veterans has dropped from 8,800 to around 1,500. A disability claim is considered to be in backlog if it takes longer than 125 days to be processed.

The wait time for processing has also improved, Graf said.

On January 1, the average claim took around 200 days to be processed. Today, the average claim takes 92 days, he said.

Over the same time period, however, wait times to see a doctor within the VA Puget Sound Health Care System have gone up.

The average wait time to see a primary care physician as of January 1 was seven days. Today, veterans would wait an average of 11 days, according to numbers provided by the VA Puget Sound.

The average wait time to see a specialist has also gone up – from nine days in January to 16 days as of September 1.

The VA Puget Sound said wait times have increased due to an increase in patients, a shortage of staff, and inadequate space in medical facilities.