Claims processors at the Department of Veterans Affairs are currently overwhelmed by a surge in new claims, a quota system, and long hours. That’s according to new reporting, which says that many processors are leaving the job in recent years.

A new report from NBC News looks at the difficult workload Department of Veterans Affairs claims processors are dealing with. NBC spoke with several current and former processors — or Veteran Service Representatives as they’re called — at the department, who spoke of overwhelming caseloads, more complex and time-consuming claims, and a hard-to-reach quota system, in place since 2017.

The situation for workers has been more difficult due to a wave of new cases from veterans. In 2022, Congress approved the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act. The act expands what the VA considers as causes for toxic exposure, allowing many veterans who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gulf War to claim benefits for health matters without having to prove a “presumptive condition.” It was a major win for veterans, as between 2007-2020, the majority of claims for health matters tied to burn pit exposure were denied. Since the PACT Act was signed into law, the VA has received more than 950,000 new claims.

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However, the influx of new cases from the PACT Act has put more pressure on the already strained VA workforce. On top of new training to handle the expanded eligibility for benefits, workers are trying to deal with extra work as workers leave. One worker told NBC News that it was easier to look for something that would discredit a claim.

For its part, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been hiring new workers to try and deal with the shortage. It added more than 6,000 claims processors this year, bringing the department’s numbers up to approximately 12,900. But that has not solved the problem of experienced workers leaving, either from retirement or quitting outright. 

According to the department’s own data, approximately 500 claims processors have quit or retired in 2023. That comes after 600 retired to quit last year, which itself was a major spike over the 2021 numbers.

The staffing shortage has been an ongoing issue for the VA in recent years. This spring the union representing federal employees at the VA called on the department to hire more workers, as open jobs and an overworked staff were hurting the quality of care that the VA could provide veterans. 

VA workers are still processing thousands of claims, including nearly half of the PACT Act ones. But there is still a large backlog of claims still waiting to be processed, with nearly 300,000 unresolved for more than 125 days, according to the VA’s own data. 

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