Veterans Affairs officials are confident they will be able to reduce the backlog of hundreds of thousands of compensation and pension exams by this fall, but watchdog groups are expressing more skepticism that such a goal is realistic.
“Yes, they have increased examiners across the nation, but the new alternate methods tend not to be as impactful as Veterans Benefits Administration officials had hoped,” Brent Arronte, deputy assistant at the VA Office of the Inspector General, told lawmakers during a House hearing on Tuesday.
“My fear right now in watching these numbers every month is that we might be getting into a situation where they’re just treading water.”
Compensation and pension exams are a key part of the process for veterans to receive disability benefits. In most cases before payouts begin, VA requires some type of review by a medical expert to confirm a veteran’s injuries and the severity of its impact.
All compensation and pension exams were suspended for two months in spring 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Veterans Affairs officials said that pause alone added about 200,000 exams to the backlog of unmet requests.
At the start of March, about 357,000 exam requests were pending, nearly three times the 130,000 pending at the end of February 2020.
Veterans Affairs officials have repeatedly promised that veterans awaiting exams will not be punished for the delays, and will receive appropriate back benefits once their cases are approved. But outside advocates have noted that still means months of waiting for veterans to have their cases finalized before those payouts begin