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VA backlog decreases, but critics say accuracy suffers

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's slashed its number of backlogged disability claims almost in half over the past year. The agency says the number of backlogged claims has dropped from a peak of more than 611,000 in March of 2013 to 344,000 at the beginning of this month. A claim is considered backlogged when it's gone unaddressed for about four months.

"It's not right. They're doing things in a rush," complained James Innis, a Navy veteran in Escambia County.

Innis says he finally heard back about a disability claim he made more than a year ago.

"It was denied after an eight minute interview," Innis said, "And I drove three hours-and-a-half from here to Montgomery."
   
Innis says he's suffering from depression and he just filed an appeal.

"It's gonna be another lengthy process," Innis said, "I'm back to square one again."
   
Innis is not alone. The number of appeals in the VA system is expected to double by 2018.

The Obama Administration set a goal last year of eliminating the backlog by 2015. The VA has since implemented a mandatory overtime policy for its processors and says now more than 80 percent of its disability claims are in a digital - not paper - format.

"We are human beings," said Innis, "We are not just pieces of paper or cases you just have to get out of the way."
   
Innis and veterans groups say although wait times are now shorter, accuracy has suffered. In December, the American Legion said it found errors with more than half the cases it reviewed. The VA, however, says 91 percent of its claims are handled accurately.