Sherburne County veterans, and veterans across the state are finding it more difficult to get their claims processed in a timely manner because of a policy implemented last year.
“Last June and July, our VA regional office, the office that handles the claims for all of our veterans, started a different process,” Sherburne County Veterans Service Officer Eugene Graff told members of the county board Tuesday.
“The average time for a fairly simple claim was taking about four months before June. It’s taking between eight and 10 months now.”
The delays began after the Dept. of Veterans Affairs decided to send claims from across the country to the St. Paul regional office in an attempt to reduce a backlog that reached almost 900,000 last March. The St. Paul office was one of the most efficient in the country, processing claims at a higher rate than most other offices. Some veterans in other parts of the county were waiting almost two years for their claims to be processed.
The VA says they intend to eliminate the backlog by 2015. Part of the process involves scanning all documents to make the system paperless. But in the meantime, benefits for veterans in Sherburne County and the rest of Minnesota are being delayed while older claims from other areas are processed.
“At one point, they ended up sending 8,400 claims to the St. Paul regional office, and they’ve continued to send additional claims, which in turn has slowed down our response times for our veterans,” said Graff. “With the VA being able to transmit these paperless claims, they can send thousands of claims anywhere.” Commissioner Felix Schmiesing said he was aware of the problem. It happened because the VA in St. Paul was so productive.
“It was one of the most efficient in the country. As a result of that, that’s why they started bringing in all this extra work,” he said. “I know they’re working overtime and Saturdays. But they have all those older claims in from other parts of the country.”
Graff said staff at the VA office were working mandatory overtime, but even that hasn’t resolved the issue yet.
“You can only work overtime so long and pretty soon you become non-productive,” he said. “They’ve been doing that for well over a year now.”
Graff said he met with Sen. Al Franken’s aides last June in St. Cloud in hopes the process could be accelerated.
“But nothing has really changed yet,” he said. “And unfortunately some of the veterans in our area are taking the brunt of that. I wanted to notify you that this is going on in case you hear some grumbling. We’ve had a lot of grumbling at the office.”